Sullivan announces commission focused on U.Va.’s history with racial segregation

New commission will reflect on the U.Va.’s role in racial segregation in 19th and 20th centuries

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President Teresa Sullivan will charter the new commission for four years, with the consultation and approval of President-elect Jim Ryan.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

University President Teresa Sullivan announced a new President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation Feb. 5 as part of the continuing celebration of U.Va.’s Bicentennial. Sullivan introduced the commission during the School of Law’s commemoration of the University’s first black student, Gregory Swanson. 

Swanson successfully sued the University in 1950 after being denied admission due to his race. He enrolled as the School of Law’s first black student that same year.

“The President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation will explore these and related elements of our shared past,” Sullivan said during the commemoration. “I am chartering it for four years, with the consultation and approval of my successor, President-elect Jim Ryan.”

Swanson’s enrollment inspired subsequent enrollment of other black students at the University and the later integration of other all-white schools across Virginia.

“Virginia was the epicenter of the massive resistance movement in the 1950s that sought to oppose public school desegregation,” Sullivan said. 

One of the commission’s main objectives will be to give advice and recommendations to the University’s president on documentation and recognition of the time period of segregation at U.Va. 

The Commission’s membership will include faculty, staff, students and members of the Charlottesville and greater Albemarle communities. In an email sent to the University community Monday, Sullivan announced the commission is seeking nominations for membership through March 12. According to the email, appointments will be made this spring. 

Sullivan also stated the commission will begin working this spring and continue under President-elect Jim Ryan when he assumes office in October. 

“This work of the President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation will complement the work of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University which, for five years now, has done so much to help us understand U.Va.’s historical relationship to slavery and its legacies,” Sullivan said.

The President’s Commission on Slavery and the University was launched in 2013 to study the University’s history with slavery and its legacies. 

“President Sullivan sees this commission as a natural complement to the work of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University,” Deputy University Spokesperson Wesley Hester said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. “Once the commission is formed, it will set forth a formal set of goals and expectations.”

The planned Memorial to Enslaved Laborers is an initiative of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University. The memorial will be located on Grounds and will honor the enslaved laborers who built and worked at the University as well as their descendents. 

“Fundraising efforts are underway to build the memorial, the design for which was approved by the Board of Visitors in June,” Hester said.

Sullivan acknowledged the University’s complex history and said she believes the new commission can help address U.Va.’s darker elements.

“I hope that we can shed a light on those parts of our history of which, perhaps, we are not proud,” she said.

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