April 24, 2007 -- On April 13, the 264th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birth, the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors unanimously passed an historic resolution commending the General Assembly’s recent resolutions on slavery and, at the same time, expressing the University's regret for its use of enslaved persons from 1819 to 1865. U.Va. is believed to be the first university whose governing board has made such a statement.
In the resolution, the board also recommitted itself to the “principles of equal opportunity and to the principle that human freedom and learning are and must be inextricably linked in this commonwealth and in this republic.”
University Rector Thomas F. Farrell II said the action, taken on Founder’s Day, was meant both to applaud the resolution adopted by the state and to demonstrate leadership among universities in the commonwealth and in the nation.
“The resolution follows our decision of a few months ago to place a memorial marker to enslaved persons who helped build the University. But the resolution also showed the board’s resolve to be vigilant today and in the future to safeguard the values that were the basis for the founding of our University, our commonwealth, and our nation,” he said. “The resolution accepts responsibility for the past and reaffirms our commitment to justice in the future.”
For African-Americans, the road from slavery to admission into the University was long and hard won. It was not until 1950 that the first African-American student — Gregory Swanson — enrolled at U.Va. In 1951, Walter N. Ridley came to the University and two years later became the first African-American graduate of the University, receiving a doctorate in education. It would be another 17 years, at about the same time that women were admitted as undergraduates, that African-American students were more broadly accepted.
Warren M. Thompson, chairman of the board’s Special Committee on Diversity, called the board’s action deeply moving personally, as well a significant moment in University history.
Thompson, a 1983 graduate of the Darden School of Business, recalled that his great-great-grandfather was born into slavery and lived just 20 miles from Charlottesville. His father was denied admission to U.Va. but later saw all three of his children enroll here. Thompson was appointed to the board in 2002 and last year was reappointed for a second term.
“I am proud to serve on this board. It has shown deep commitment to diversity issues and progress toward change,” he said. “I commend my board colleagues for this powerful resolution. It sends a strong message that the University of Virginia is a welcoming, forward-thinking community open to all.”
Thompson said he hopes the resolution will put to rest old stereotypes about the University and pointed to its closing words: “The board affirms that the benefits of useful knowledge must belong commonly to all who present themselves qualified for admission to the University, and that this useful knowledge ought to be the common treasure of all who come here.”
What follows is the full text of the resolution.
University of Virginia Board of Visitors Resolution
Commending the General Assembly's Resolutions on Slavery
WHEREAS, the General Assembly of Virginia in its 2007 session adopted resolutions acknowledging “with profound regret the involuntary servitude of Africans….and calling for reconciliation among all Virginians;” and
WHEREAS, the governor has signed the resolutions; and
WHEREAS, the Board of Visitors commends the governor and the General Assembly for these actions and expresses its regret for the institution of slavery in this state; and
WHEREAS, the notion of involuntary servitude is repugnant and incompatible with the ideals upon which this University was founded, the ideals upon which the commonwealth was organized in 1776, and the ideals embodied in our national Declaration of Independence in the same year; and
WHEREAS, the mostly anonymous laborers employed in the construction of the University were both enslaved and free, as was the University’s workforce between 1825 and 1865; and
WHEREAS, the board expresses its particular regret for the employment of enslaved persons in these years; and
WHEREAS, the board expresses as well its profound respect for the contributions of these women and men, by whose ingenuity and labor much of what is now admired at the University as a national and world treasure came to be;
RESOLVED, the Board of Visitors recommits itself to the principles of equal opportunity and to the principle that human freedom and learning are and must be inextricably linked in this commonwealth and in this republic; and
RESOLVED FURTHER, the board affirms that the benefits of useful knowledge must belong commonly to all who present themselves qualified for admission to the University, and that this useful knowledge ought to be the common treasure of all who come here.
April 13, 2007
University of Virginia
Board of Visitors