Virginia Theological Seminary Pays Reparations to Descendants of Enslaved and Jim Crow Laborers

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tags: slavery, African American history, reparations

Frances Colbert Terrell, age 78, grew up in Alexandria, Va., in the shadow of the Virginia Theological Seminary campus.

When she was a child, she would go to the campus to watch the boys from her community play baseball. In the winter she and her neighborhood friends went to a pond on campus to ice-skate.

“The white kids had skates,” recalls Terrell, who is African American. “We skated on our shoes -- just got out there and slid around the best we could.”

Terrell’s family has long-standing connections to the seminary, and she recently received a check for about $2,100 from VTS because of those connections. The money was part of a first round of annual reparations checks paid to descendants of Black people who worked on the campus during the Jim Crow era. Terrell's great-grandfather Daniel Simms worked as a waiter at VTS around 1910, according to the institution’s records. She said her late grandfather Frederick Douglas Johnson worked there, too, in the 1920s.

The seminary's reparations program, funded with a $1.7 million endowment established by the Episcopal seminary in September 2019, is one of the first of its kind, as The New York Times noted in an article about the program last month. The seminary is using income from the endowment to make annual payments to direct descendants of Black people who worked on the campus during the eras of slavery, Reconstruction and segregation under Jim Crow laws.

Terrell said her grandfather, a deacon of his church, would have been pleased by these developments and the notion of a nearly 200-year-old institution such as VTS making restitution for wrongs committed long ago.

“His words would be, ‘Well, praise the Lord, it’s about time,’” she said without hesitation. “Our community has been through a lot.”

VTS, founded in 1823, said in a 2019 statement that it “recognizes that enslaved persons worked on the campus and that even after slavery ended, VTS participated in segregation. VTS recognizes that we must start to repair the material consequences of our sin in the past.”

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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