As the University approaches its bicentennial, work has been under way to deepen and expand understanding of the institution’s history. This has included efforts by students, staff, faculty, and independent researchers, as well as institutionally sponsored initiatives. The work continues, with a central focus on developing this virtual exhibit, The University of Richmond: An Unfolding History. The exhibit will consider familiar figures and stories, as well as new research illuminating individuals and topics previously unaddressed, including the involvement of the institution and its leaders in enslavement.
This website represents the first phase of the virtual exhibit, covering the years 1830-1840, spanning early Virginia Baptist education efforts, institutional formation and leaders, enslaved laborers on the campuses, the institution’s ties to First African Baptist Church, and the growth of the institution and its campuses.
Initiated in 2022 and sponsored by the President and the Board of Trustees, An Unfolding History is the product of considerable collective effort and collaboration. We are especially grateful to:
- Shelby M. Driskill, who served as the primary researcher and author of the content of Phase One;
- The Virginia Baptist Historical Society, for their assistance accessing crucial archival materials and granting the use of numerous images for the exhibit;
- Boatwright Memorial Library;
- The Library of Virginia, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, the Valentine, the College of William and Mary, Duke University, and the Library of Congress, whose collections provided essential material, and in several cases, whose staffs arranged for access to their materials when facilities were closed due to the pandemic;
- The Office of University Communications;
- The Office of Equity and Community;
- The Office of the Secretary to the Board of Trustees;
- Students, staff, and faculty who have offered perspectives on the site’s focus and content—both in the conceptual stage and in providing comments on the developing site; and
- Trivium Interactive, who assisted in the design of the virtual exhibit website.
The History of the University of Richmond: 1830-1971, by the late Dr. Reuben E. Alley, Sr., R’22, was also a valuable source of information in this project.
This project, builds on many efforts:
- The work of students, staff, and faculty in the Race and Racism project, begun in 2015;
- The University’s 2018 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the matriculation of the first Black residential undergraduate student, Barry Greene, R’72, and of the matriculation of Madieth Malone (W’72) and Isabelle (Thomas) LeSane (W’72), who were among the first Black students to enroll at Westhampton College;
- The report and recommendations of the Presidential Commission for University History and Identity (2018-19), established by then-University President Ronald A. Crutcher and co-chaired by President Emeritus Edward L. Ayers and Visiting Lecturer and public historian Lauranett Lee;
- Institutional history research projects initiated by then-President Crutcher and directed by Dr. Lee: “Knowledge of This Cannot Be Hidden”: A Report on the Westham Burying Ground at the University of Richmond (2019), by Shelby M. Driskill, Research Coordinator, University of Richmond Inclusive History Project, addressing the history of enslavement and the enslaved burying ground on the land that is now the University’s campus; “A Season of Discipline”: Enslavement, Education & Faith in the Life of Robert Ryland (2021), by Ms. Driskill; and “The Virginia Way”: Race, The “Lost Cause,” & The Social Influence of Douglas Southall Freeman (2021), by Dr. Lee and Suzanne Slye;
- The work of the Burying Ground Memorialization Committee (2020-2022), co-chaired by Dr. Ayers and VP for Information Services & CIO Keith McIntosh, and working in consultation with members of the descendant community, facilitated by Henrico County public historian Mrs. Brenda Dabney Nichols, to make recommendations to memorialize the enslaved burying ground—resulting in the memorial design process currently underway;
- Digitizing and making available to researchers Board of Trustees minutes from the era of Robert Ryland’s presidency, initiated by the Board and executed by the University’s Digital Scholarship Lab; and
- The extensive community-wide conversations concerning issues of naming at the University, including student-initiated efforts from WCGA and RCSGA resolutions to the Black Student Coalition’s advocacy, and the work of the Naming Principles Commission (2021-22) established by the Board of Trustees, resulting in the Board’s adoption of Naming Principles in spring 2022.
We invite you to explore this exhibit and look forward to sharing future phases with you. Should you have questions, comments, or additional information to offer about the University’s history, please contact us here.
Thank you for visiting An Unfolding History.
Ann Lloyd Breeden, Ph.D. Amy Howard, Ph.D. Secretary to the Board of Trustees Senior Administrative Officer for Equity and Community