Bill asks Longwood to recognize slave labor

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 10, 2021

A bill moving through the Virginia General Assembly would ask Longwood University to identify any slaves who worked to help build what was then the Farmville Female Seminary and provide scholarships and economic development programs to help the families of their descendants.

The bill, known as the Enslaved Ancestors College Access Scholarship and Memorial program, (hb1980) passed the House 61-39 Thursday, Feb. 4, and will be taken up by the Senate for approval in the coming weeks.

The sponsor of the bill is Delegate David Reid of Ashburn.

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In addition to Longwood, the bill would ask the same of William and Mary, the Virginia Military Institute, the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University. All these state universities had buildings constructed before the Emancipation Proclamation.

Longwood University Assistant Vice President of Communications Matt McWilliams said the university has been working on an initiative related to this issue called the Bicentennial initiative since February of 2020 which would help accomplish what the bills seeks.

McWilliams said the original seminary building built in the early 1840s no longer stands and that the university has no records as to the extent slave labor was used in the school’s early years. He said it was likely labor from white as well as free and enslaved Black people was used given Prince Edward County’s labor practices at the time.

Other steps Longwood University has taken to reconcile the past mistreatment of minorities include the dedication of the Farmville Freedom Monument in 2018. This past July, the university announced the naming of a new academic building for the university’s first tenured Black professor, Dr. Edna Allen Bledsoe Dean, and two residence halls for Farmville Civil Rights leader Barbara Johns and Longwood and Prince Edward County Civil Rights activist Gordon Moss. The Board of Visitors also issued an apology for actions during the Civil Rights era and created the Moton Legacy Scholarship in 2014.

“The initial focus of the Bicentennial Initiative has been more toward the 20th-century civil rights movement given our community’s critical national role in that history,” McWilliams said. “But we hope to conduct more research about the 19th century history of our institution and our community, including the roles of enslaved people and free black people, and we hope this further research will contribute to our continuing efforts to reckon honestly with our past.”