The New York Times reports Seminary Built on Slavery and Jim Crow Labor Has Begun Paying Reparations concerning Virginia Theological Seminary. VTS began the cash payments to descendants in February of this year.
The Episcopal Café ran a story on September 6, 2019, based on a VTS press release announcing its plans for $1.7 million fund for reparations. The Times reports the fund is set to grow with the Seminary’s endowment.
Last week the Diocese of Virginia announced it would be studying reparations.
The Times points out VTS “has become the most powerful in the Episcopal Church. It graduates about 50 students a year and boasts a $191 million endowment.”
Descendents of Black Americans, both slaves forced to work at VTS and Jim Crow era employees of the Seminary, will receive annual payments of $2,100 cash. The Seminary has hired genealogists to do the work of finding these shareholders.
According to the Rev. Ian Markham, dean of the Seminary, there has been pushback.
Mr. Markham said a handful of donors had objected and had said they would no longer contribute money. They also heard from some people who asked to be removed from the seminary’s mailing lists.
The Times spoke to one of the shareholders:
The exact number of Black workers from 1823 to 1951 is still unknown, but they probably numbered in the hundreds.
Among them was the grandfather of Linda J. Thomas, the first woman to receive a $2,100 payment from the seminary. Ms. Thomas’s grandfather, John Samuel Thomas Jr., worked at the seminary after World War I as a janitor, and most likely also as a laborer on the seminary’s farm.
Ms. Thomas, 65, said her mother remembered growing up in a little white house on the campus. She said her grandfather had dreamed of becoming a minister but had been barred from applying to the seminary because of his skin color. Eventually, near the end of World War II, he moved to Washington and became a minister before his death in 1967.
The Seminary began seriously studying its links to slavery less than 20 years ago. Julia Randle, archivist for VTS, wrote an article for Center Aisle, the Diocese of Virginia, a daily journal for General Convention. In addition to slaves at VTS, many faculty of the Seminary and clergy of the diocese owned slaves:
Surviving records do not provide data on parish, diocesan or seminary ownership of slaves. It is known that building contractors included slaves in their construction crews and VTS buildings, and at least some parish churches were built with slave laborers. In addition, many slave owners rented out “extra” slaves to others. Documents at Mount Vernon from the 1850s record renting slaves to an agent for VTS to work at the seminary.
The ownership of slaves by individuals, however, can be determined through the U.S. Census records. These census records document the slave ownership of the first four bishops of Virginia–James Madison, Richard Channing Moore, William Meade and John Johns, and early professors Edward R. Lippitt, Joseph Packard and Williams Sparrow.
The Episcopal clergy of the Diocese of Virginia were slave owners, as well. Of the 112 Episcopal clergy canonically and physically resident in the Diocese of Virginia in 1860, 103 could be located in the U.S. Census of that year. Eighty-four of the brethren, or 82 percent, possessed at least one slave, while some owned dozens.
Randle is now archivist for the diocese, and continues work on the diocese’s connection to systemic racism.