Over the past decade, U.S. colleges and universities have begun paying greater attention to the historical role of slavery at their institutions. For example, Brown University’s Committee on Slavery and Justice released an extensive report in 2006 that documented Brown’s history with slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. In 2011, Emory University hosted the first-ever conference examining the history and legacy of slavery’s role in higher education. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created a large online exhibition titled Slavery and the Making of the University, recognizing and documenting the contributions of slaves to the university during the antebellum period. The University of Virginia will join other premier institutions in exploring and commemorating its relationship with slavery, as well as the lives of the enslaved people who were an integral part of early life at Jefferson’s University.

At an April 2013 meeting of the President’s Cabinet, Dr. Marcus Martin, Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity, made a presentation on slavery at UVa and proposed that a commission be formed to further explore the topic and to make recommendations as to the next steps the University could take in response to this history. Dr. Martin credited groups such as Memorial for Enslaved Laborers (MEL), the UVa IDEA Fund (Inclusion Diversity Equity Access), and University and Community Action for Racial Equity (UCARE) for creating robust initiatives around the topic of slavery, which will guide the Commission’s work. Slavery at the University of Virginia: Visitor’s Guide, a student-led brochure that provides visitors with information about the University’s history with slavery, is one such initiative. The formation of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University is the next step in building a broader institutional effort.

Commission Charge

Provide Advice and Recommendations to the President on the commemoration of the University of Virginia’s historical relationship with slavery and enslaved people.

Explore and report on UVA’s historical relationship with slavery, highlighting opportunities for recognition and commemoration including (but not limited to) the following:

  1. Investigate the interpretation of historically significant buildings/sites related to slavery at UVA (Sites identified by the Office of the Architect include the Crackerbox, McGuffey Cottage, the Mews, Pavilion VI garden, and the African American burial site adjacent to the University cemetery).
  2. Discuss mutual interests with Monticello to include research and events focusing on Jefferson and slavery.
  3. Promote an historical exhibition focusing on slavery at UVA.
  4. Assist in interpretive/interactive media in the Rotunda Visitor’s Center.
  5. Propose projects (similar to the Henry Martin plaque) that would educate students, faculty, staff, and visitors about enslaved individuals who worked on Grounds.
  6. Consider appropriate memorialization.

2018 President’s Commission on Slavery and the University Report to President Teresa A. Sullivan