Virginia seminary built with slave labour to pay $1.7m in reparations to slavery descendants

Francis Akhalbey September 11, 2019
Aspinwall Hall is one of the 3 known buildings at Virginia Theological Seminary that was built with the help of slave labor -- Photo Credit: John W. Cross

The topic of reparations for slavery in the United States has been a never-ending one, stoking numerous debates and schools of thought.

While a section of people, particularly whites, feel it’s not right for them to atone for the sins of their forefathers, others, mostly African-Americans, feel it is necessary to help redress the wrongs of slavery and racial discrimination.

As some institutions that benefited from slavery in recent times are making amends for the roles they played in promoting it, the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) has also followed suit.

In a statement, VTS announced they are setting aside $1.7 million as an endowment fund for slavery reparations.

Established in 1823, the institution was founded by slave owners, including Francis Scott Key, a staunch anti-abolitionist and writer of the national anthem, according to The Washington Post.

Besides being built with the help of and also periodically relying on slave labour, VTS was also segregated after slavery had been abolished. The school opened its doors to black students in 1951.

“Virginia Theological Seminary 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,” the statement read.

Among the three known buildings on the school campus that were built with slave labour include the Aspinwall Hall, which houses the dean’s and admissions offices.

Virginia seminary built with slave labour to pay $1.7m in reparations to slavery descendants
Aspinwall Hall during during the American Civil War — Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

According to VTS, the funds will cater to the “particular needs” of descendants of slaves that worked in the institution, as well as, the needs of local congregations the seminary is linked with.

The income from the endowment will also assist with the “work of African American alumni especially in historic Black congregations” and facilitate the nurturing of “African American clergy in The Episcopal Church.”

Funds will also additionally be set aside for the promotion of “activities and programs that promote justice and inclusion.”

“This is a start. As we seek to mark Seminary’s milestone of 200 years, we do so conscious that our past is a mixture of sin as well as grace,” The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, president of VTS said. “This is the Seminary recognizing that along with repentance for past sins, there is also a need for action.”

Though other similar institutions in the United States have admitted their involvement in slavery, this initiative by VTS makes it the first educational institution in the country that benefited from slavery to set aside funds for reparations, CNN reports.

“This initiative has the potential to be transformative. Though no amount of money could ever truly compensate for slavery, the commitment of these financial resources means that the institution’s attitude of repentance is being supported by actions of repentance that can have a significant impact both on the recipients of the funds, as well as on those at VTS,” Rev. Joseph Thompson, Director of the Office of Multicultural Ministries said in the statement.

“It opens up a moment for us to reflect long and hard on what it will take for our society and institutions to redress slavery and its consequences with integrity and credibility.”

Just last month, the University of Glasgow in Scotland signed a historic $24m slavery reparation deal with the University of the West Indies.

The Memorandum of Understanding, framed as a “Reparatory Justice” initiative, acknowledges that while the University of Glasgow lent support to efforts to abolish the trade in enslaved Africans and to end slavery, it also received significant financial support from people whose wealth was derived from African enslavement.

Virginia seminary built with slave labour to pay $1.7m in reparations to slavery descendants
Front left: UWI Vice-Chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles | Right: Dr David Duncan COO, University of Glasgow — Photo Credit:

The evidence of this history of financial benefitting from enslavement, particularly in the Caribbean context, was presented by a research team commissioned by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli.

Under the terms of the MoU, the two universities agreed to establish the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research. The Centre, through reparatory-oriented policy research, will address the legacies of slavery and colonialism, such as persistent poverty and extreme inequality in economic relations, chronic disease proliferation, educational inadequacies, and related inhibiting factors adversely impacting economic growth and social justice in the region.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 11, 2019


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