Universities are complex networks of buildings and organizations that provide education and jobs and health care and cultural enrichment. They take form in classrooms, dorms, dining halls, and hospitals. They field sports teams and community volunteers. They possess histories that include shameful compromises with the inequalities and oppression of their times. And they nurture opposition to those moral and ethical errors. Most fundamentally, universities are students, professors, staff, and alumni who think together about what is needed—from food and computers and trust to books and ideas and evidence—for us to continue in this essential act of collective thought.
I began my career as a professor of history researching how white Southerners created a culture that legitimated segregation: the system of violence, oppression, and discrimination they created to replace slavery. The question that animated my work was how white Southerners learned to live with what they had done, how they convinced themselves that their world was moral and good and true. Building Confederate statues in parks and in front of courthouses formed an essential part of that work. After twenty years of teaching at the University of Virginia and living in Charlottesville, I have become the rare academic who wishes her research was not quite so relevant.
Here, on a campus where slaves once labored and African American students were not welcomed until almost a century after emancipation, the right to speak freely is not an abstract concept. It is a material, grounded, and embodied act that has been defeated in the past by slavery, war, lynching, rape and other forms of assault, eugenics, and segregation. It has also at times been defended by brave students, faculty, and staff members. It is palpable. In this collection, UVA professors suggest answers to what this history means the next time the white supremacists come to this or another university campus. They turn the university’s collective thinking to the prospect of creating a truly antiracist future. — Grace Elizabeth Hale, Commonwealth Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Virginia
1607: The Virginia colony is founded.
1625: The census enumerates twenty-three blacks living in the Virginia colony.
1737: William Taylor receives a patent for the land that would become Charlottesville.
1743: Thomas Jefferson is born on April 13 in Shadwell, Virginia.
1774: The Virginia General Assembly establishes Albemarle County.
1784: Thomas Jefferson publishes Notes on the State of Virginia. In the text Jefferson argues that African Americans were inferior to whites in both body and mind. His racial theories elicited outrage and critical responses from a variety of African American intellectuals and leaders, including Benjamin Banneker and David Walker.
1800: This transformative year witnesses numerous events that reveal the tension between freedom and liberty in the American republic. Thomas Jefferson defeats the incumbent president, John Adams, in a highly contested election. Gabriel Prosser, a blacksmith owned by Thomas Prosser of Henrico County, Virginia, devises a plan to liberate his people and put an end to the brutal institution of slavery. Gabriel reads the Bible closely and sees himself as divinely chosen to deliver his people from bondage.
1807: Robert E. Lee is born at Stratford, Westmoreland County, Virginia.
1814: Thomas Jefferson proposes a bill for the establishment of Central College in Virginia.
1817: On October 6 Jefferson begins construction on what would become the University of Virginia, located on a rocky ridge one mile west of the City of Charlottesville. The laying of the cornerstone for the first building draws many dignitaries, including James Monroe and James Madison. Building the university relies on the labor of enslaved African Americans, as well as free blacks.
1818: Jefferson convenes a group in Rockfish Gap, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and thirty miles west of Monticello, and presents a report on his vision for Central College and explains why Charlottesville is the ideal location. This report is known as the Rockfish Gap Report.
1825: On March 7 the University of Virginia officially opens its doors to students.
1826: Thomas Jefferson dies on July 4. He is buried at Monticello the next day.
1859: James Lawrence Cabel, an 1833 graduate of the University of Virginia who joined the faculty in 1837, publishes The Testimony of Modern Science in the Unity of Mankind. In this book he posits the inherent intellectual, physical, and emotional inferiority of African Americans. Though insisting that blacks could never be equal to whites, Cabel asserts that the “civilizing” influence of slavery has improved African Americans’ condition.
1861: The start of the Civil War transforms both the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia. Ninety percent of the six hundred students enrolled at the university in 1860 would eventually fight on the side of the Confederacy.
1864: The Charlottesville African Church, now known as First Baptist Church, is organized. It remains an institutional cornerstone of the African American community in Charlottesville and surrounding counties to the present day.
1865: Robert E. Lee surrenders to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9. A day later he issues his farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude. The Senate passes the amendment on April 8, 1864, the House on January 31, 1865. It is ratified on December 6, 1865.
1869: The Jefferson Lodge of Charlottesville successfully petitions for membership in the Union Grand Lodge of Virginia.
1881: Virginia-born educator Booker T. Washington is named principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The most powerful African American in the nation until his death in 1915, Washington would have a profound impact on the development of black education.
1892: A graduate of Hampton Institute and a friend of Booker T. Washington, J. F. Bell opens the J. F. Bell Funeral Home.
1901: The University of Virginia hospital opens. Under the leadership of Paul Barringer, who served as the chair of the faculty from 1897 to 1903, the hospital develops into an important intellectual hub of the eugenics movement.
1902: On July 10 the new Virginia Constitution becomes law. To reduce the black electorate and undermine African Americans’ political power, the constitution implements requirements like the “understanding clause” and the payment of poll taxes in order to vote. The number of eligible black voters in the state declines from 147,000 in 1901 to 10,000 by 1905.
1907: Harvey Ernest Jordan joins the faculty of the medical school. A longtime member of the UVA community, he serves as the dean of the medical school from 1939 to 1949. A firm and unapologetic believer in the principles of white supremacy, Jordan promotes sterilization laws that prevent procreation among those he deems “unfit” for reproduction. To avoid weakening the gene pool among whites, he also advocates laws restricting intermarriage among whites and blacks.
1914: In the first of a series of attacks on African Americans’ property rights, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors removes African Americans from the McKee Row section of Charlottesville by confiscating their land and deeding it to the city. McKee Row, a predominantly African American neighborhood near downtown, becomes the site of Jackson Park, where the equestrian statue of Stonewall Jackson is unveiled in 1921.
1915: D. W. Griffith releases The Birth of a Nation. Ivey Foreman Lewis joins the faculty at the University of Virginia. As chair of the biology department, he integrates eugenics into the curriculum and gains a reputation as an outspoken eugenicist.
1917: Philanthropist Paul Goodloe McIntire commissions artist Henry Shrady to create a statue in honor of Robert E. Lee.
1920: On October 5 three African American women in Charlottesville, Mrs. Maggie P. Burley, Mamie J. Farwell, and Mrs. Alice Grady, successfully register to vote.
1921: In June the Ku Klux Klan organizes a local chapter in Charlottesville. The City of Charlottesville unveils the Stonewall Jackson monument.
1922: To expedite the process of “Negro removal,” Lily White Republicans in Virginia bar blacks from participating at the Republican state convention. Claiming to be pragmatic rather than racist, white strategists within the party defend these moves as necessary steps in improving the GOP’s standing in the South. John Powell, a graduate of the University of Virginia, forms the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, a white supremacist organization that promotes separation of the races and the colonization of black Americans to West Africa, preferably Liberia.
1924: On May 21 the City of Charlottesville unveils the statue of Robert E. Lee as part of a two-day event in which the Sons of the Confederacy participate. The Virginia Assembly passes the Racial Integrity Act of 1924.
1926: Black Charlottesville celebrates the opening of the city’s first high school for African Americans, Jefferson High School.
1935: Alice Jackson, an alumnus of the historically black Virginia Union University in Richmond, applies to the University of Virginia to conduct graduate work in English. The university rejects her application and does not admit an African American until 1950.
1945: Under the leadership of Rev. Benjamin F. Bunn, local activists form the Charlottesville branch of the NAACP. By 1954 the NAACP chapter has 867 members.
1954: The U.S. Supreme Court issues its Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declares the separate but equal doctrine unconstitutional. Randolph Louis White founds the local black newspaper, the Charlottesville Albemarle Tribune.
1956: On February 25 U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. (D-VA) calls for massive resistance against the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision.
1956: Judge John Paul of the U.S. District Court for the Fourth Circuit issues an order for Venable Elementary School and Lane High School to integrate at the beginning of the school year. To delay the process the local school board appeals the decision for two years.
1958: After a federal court order to integrate several schools in Virginia immediately, Gov. J. Lindsay Almond Jr. orders the closing of public schools in Charlottesville, Alexandria, and Norfolk. In Charlottesville, Lane and Venable are closed until February 1959.
1960: The Charlottesville Redevelopment Housing Authority submits an application to the Charlottesville City Council calling for the redevelopment of Vinegar Hill, a central residential, business, intellectual, and cultural district for African Americans.
1964: Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, and national origin. This law plays a critical role in the desegregation of the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia. In addition, the Westhaven housing project is completed. It will house many of the city’s black residents displaced by the razing and destruction of Vinegar Hill.
1967: Virginia Anne Scott, Nancy Jaffe, Nancy L. Anderson, and Jo Anne Kirstein file a lawsuit against the University of Virginia charging that the school discriminates against women in its admissions policies. The court mandates coeducation within three years. In the fall of 1970, 450 women undergraduates enter the university.
1968: African American student leaders organize the Black Students for Freedom, a precursor to the Black Student Alliance.
1969: On February 18 hundreds of progressive students march on the University of Virginia’s historic Lawn, demanding an end to all vestiges of Jim Crow segregation, a living wage for workers, the creation of a Black Studies program, the integration of UVA’s athletic department, and the appointment of an African American as assistant dean of admissions.
1970: In early May, following the murder of four students at Kent State University, student activists at UVA engage in a series of protests over the war in Vietnam, the slow pace of integration at the college, the status and working conditions of low-wage employees on grounds, and law enforcement officials’ “invasion” of the Academical Village.
1972: Charles Lee Barbour becomes the first African American mayor of Charlottesville.
1974: UVA’s student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, publishes several articles on the large number of UVA administrators, including President Frank Hereford, who belong to the all-white Farmington Country Club, which at the time excluded Jews, African Americans, and other people of color. In addition to President Hereford, this list includes seventeen department chairs, seven deans, and eight Board of Visitors members.
1976: After protests over the Farmington Country Club membership issues, as well as other related incidents, the Office of Afro-American Affairs is created in 1976.
1977: The number of African American undergraduates enrolled at the University of Virginia reaches five hundred for the first time.
1978: In response to constant demand for affordable housing in Charlottesville, Friendship Courts is constructed on Garrett Street.
1979: The poverty rate among African Americans living in Albemarle County is 22.7 percent.
1980: The eleven-million-dollar Primary Care Center at UVA opens in January. The site displaces the former neighborhood Gospel Hill, which was predominantly black.
1982: The Office for Civil Rights finally approves the state’s desegregation plan for higher education. This comes eighteen years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
1987: UVA releases the Audacious Faith report, a detailed account of race relations on Grounds, documenting the experiences of students, faculty, and workers. It began in 1986 when the university commenced its preparations for its decennial reaccreditation evaluation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. University president Robert O’Neil appointed a steering committee for the self-study report. The committee had as one of its tasks the evaluation of the university’s recruitment of black students and faculty. The committee suggested the formation of a separate task force that would focus solely on investigating the state of race relations on Grounds and recommending policies to achieve full integration at the university. President O’Neil impaneled a committee of sixteen faculty members, students, and administrators, who compile the Audacious Faith report.
1989: Virginians elect Lawrence Douglas Wilder as the sixty-sixth governor of Virginia.
1996: With strong support from the local chapter of the NAACP, the Office of Equal Opportunity releases An Examination of the University’s Minority Classified Staff (The Muddy Floor Report). The report reveals “glaring disparities” in employment opportunities, performance evaluations, and disciplinary sanctions between white and black employees.
2001: Richard Spencer graduates from UVA with a bachelor of arts in music. About twelve hundred African American undergraduates attend the university in the 2000–01 academic year.
2003: A series of racial incidents on Grounds leads university president John Casteen to create the Commission on Diversity and Equity, which conducts a year-long study on race relations on Grounds. This leads to the creation of the position of vice president and chief officer of diversity and equity.
2006: On February 21 the Living Wage Campaign releases Keeping Our Promises: Toward A Living Wage at the University, a detailed report that encourages the administration to adopt a living wage ($10.72 per hour) for classified staff and contract employees. A month and a half later, on April 12, seventeen students affiliated with the campaign stage a sit-in at Madison Hall. For the next three days, the Living Wage Campaign captures the attention of students, administrators, faculty members, community leaders, and perhaps most importantly, the media.
2008: During a retreat the Charlottesville City Council identifies two issues deserving serious and immediate attention: the need to ease strained race relations between whites and African Americans and the necessity of promoting greater diversity within city government. A series of conversations leads to the creation of the Dialogue on Race project.
2010: In June Dialogue on Race creates working groups to tackle a variety of issues, including housing, employment, and education.
2010: Richard Spencer founds the publication alternativeright.com. In June 2011 Spencer becomes president and director of the National Policy Institute.
2013: UVA president Teresa A. Sullivan establishes the Commission on Slavery and the University.
2015: On March 18 Martese Johnson, then a third-year student at UVA, is brutally arrested by officers from Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) on “The Corner,” a popular hangout near academic Grounds. His bloodied face circulates across the media and elicits a great deal of conversation about the politics of race and the treatment of African Americans on and beyond the Grounds of UVA. The following month the Black Student Alliance issues its report, Toward a Better University. In November, Wes Bellamy is elected to the Charlottesville City Council.
2016: In March Councilman Bellamy calls for the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Lee Park. On May 28 the Charlottesville City Council approves a resolution to create the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces. The Blue Ribbon Commission submits its report to the council in late December.
February: The Charlottesville City Council votes to remove the Robert E. Lee statue and rename Lee Park.
March 20: Several groups, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans, file a lawsuit against the city council, noting that its decision to remove the Lee statue violates state law.
May 2: Judge Richard Moore rules that the statues cannot be moved for six months.
May 13: UVA alum and white nationalist activist Richard Spencer leads a nighttime rally in Lee Park to protest the city council’s decision to remove the statue.
June 5: The city council votes unanimously to rename Lee and Jackson Parks. The former becomes Emancipation Park and the latter Justice Park.
July 8: President Teresa Sullivan issues statement to the UVA community encouraging its members to avoid conflict with white supremacists. That same day dozens of KKK members rally in protest of the city’s plan to remove the Lee statue.
Aug. 10: Jason Kessler—lead organizer of the Unite the Right rally, graduate of UVA, and resident of Charlottesville—files a federal suit against the City of Charlottesville with the support of the Virginia ACLU.
Aug. 11: Federal Judge Glen Conrad rules that the Unite the Right Rally can be held in Emancipation Park. At approximately 8:45 p.m., a group of 250 white supremacists and nationalists assembles on Nameless Field, located in the back of Memorial Gymnasium at UVA. The group, led by Richard Spencer, then marches to the Thomas Jefferson statue near the Rotunda, where a small group of students have assembled to protest the white supremacists.
Aug. 12: Early in the morning Unite the Right rally participants and counterprotesters assemble in various points in downtown Charlottesville, including the pedestrian mall and Emancipation Park. At approximately 11:32 a.m., law enforcement officials rule it an unlawful assembly as violence breaks out. At approximately 11:52 a.m., Gov. Terry McAuliffe declares a state of emergency. At 1:42 p.m., a car later identified as belonging to James Alex Fields plows into the downtown mall, killing counterprotester and Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer and injuring nineteen others.
Aug. 20: The city council votes to shroud both the Jackson and Lee statues.
Oct. 7: Three UVA students are arrested for trespassing at the Bicentennial Launch celebration. At the event the students held up the banner “200 years of white supremacy” in front of a screen showing coverage of the event. That same night white supremacists hold a tiki-torch rally in Emancipation Park. Chants of “you will not replace us” pierce the air as the participants gather around the covered Robert E. Lee statue.
Sept. 24: Thousands pack Scott Stadium for A Concert for Charlottesville, which features the Dave Matthews Band, the Roots, Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes), Stevie Wonder, and Pharrell Williams, among others.
November: Charlottesville native and local activist Nikuyah Walker is elected to the city council. She is later appointed mayor. Walker is the first African American woman to hold the position of mayor.