Seminary Built By Labor Of Enslaved Black People Pays Reparations

In February, the Virginia Theological Seminary started repaying descendants of enslaved Black people who were forced to build and work at the school during slavery and Jim Crow era. The school’s cash payments program is unique and may be the first-of-its-kind. 

“When white institutions have to face up with the sins of their past, we’ll do everything we can to prevaricate, and we’ll especially prevaricate if it’s going to have some sort of financial implication,” Rev. Ian Markham, president and dean of the seminary, told The New York Times. “We wanted to make sure that we both not just say and articulate and speak what’s right, but we also take some action –– and we were committed to that from the outset.” 

The outlet reported that other colleges have offered scholarships and housing vouchers for descendants of Black people who built and worked at the institution without pay. Descendants of those who worked at Virginia Theological Seminary will receive $2,100 annually and come from a $1.7 million fund that is slated to grow at the same rate as the school’s endowment. Fifteen people have received checks so far this year, though, genealogists are currently looking through historical records to locate and identify living descendants. 

“This is one of those things I never thought I would see in my lifetime –– a serious, a kind of broad conversation about reparations in the United States of America,” Rev. Joseph Thompson, director of multicultural ministries, told the outlet. “That was a very striking moment for me.” 

Several reparations programs have been piloted or proposed over the last year. Evanston, Illinois started a plan for its Black residents and at the federal level, HR 40 is making its way through Congress, getting further than any other proposed legislation for reparations to be paid to Black people in the US. 

Photo: Getty Images

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