Virginia Theological Seminary designates $1.7 million to pay reparations to descendants of slaves

An Episcopal seminary in Virginia announced that it would pay $1.7 million in reparations for its use of enslaved people to tend its grounds and its participation in segregation.

The Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) announced that it will set aside the funds in an effort to recognize the enslaved people that worked on its campus, the seminary said in a statement on September 5. The seminary, which is located in Alexandria, said it had “participated in segregation” after slavery had ended and “recognizes that we must start to repair the material consequences of our sin in the past.”

In the announcement, the seminary stated the money will be allocated to emerging local congregations connected to the Episcopal seminary; to meet the particular needs of any descendants who worked at the seminary; to contribute to the work of African American alumni with a focus on those serving historic Black congregations; to help promote African American clergy in the Episcopal church; and aid programs that address justice and inclusion.

“This is a start. As we seek to mark Seminary's milestone of 200 years, we do so conscious that our past is a mixture of sin as well as grace,” said Reverend Ian S. Markham, dean and president of VTS in a statement. “This is the Seminary recognizing that along with repentance for past sins, there is also a need for action.”

The seminary was founded in 1823. One of its founders was Francis Scott Key, who authored the poem that provided the lyrics for America’s national anthem, according to the seminary’s website. Curtis Prather, the seminary’s director of communications, told CNN that the school had used slave labor and segregated students based on race even after slavery ended, up until 1951.

"Our first African American student was John T. Walker, who was admitted in 1951. Prior to that, African American students studied at Bishop Payne Divinity School," Prather said.

The seminary stated that it is committed to “recognizing the racism in our past and working toward healing and reconciliation in the future.” The program will be run by the Office of Multicultural Ministries.

“This initiative has the potential to be transformative. Though no amount of money could ever truly compensate for slavery, the commitment of these financial resources means that the institution’s attitude of repentance is being supported by actions of repentance that can have a significant impact both on the recipients of the funds, as well as on those at VTS,” Reverend Joseph Thompson, the director of the Office of Multicultural Ministries, said in a statement.

“It opens up a moment for us to reflect long and hard on what it will take for our society and institutions to redress slavery and its consequences with integrity and credibility.”

In August, the University of Glasgow in Scotland announced that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of the West Indies (UWI) to give £20 million ($24 million) as “reparative justice.”

The funds will help build the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research, which will be based in Glasgow and the West Indies. Over the next 20 years, the University of Glasgow will not only run the center but also provide scholarships, fund research, host events and support public engagement. The agreement comes after a two-year study at the university found that it benefited from the slave trade in Africa and the Caribbean during the 18th and 19th centuries, making nearly £200 million ($241 million) during the Transatlantic Slave Trade when adjusted to current currency value.

Dr. David Duncan, the chief operating officer and University of Glasgow secretary, signed the MOU during a ceremony held at the UWI Mona campus in Kingston, Jamaica on July 31.

“This is a historic occasion for both the University of Glasgow and The University of the West Indies,” Duncan said in a previous statement. “When we commissioned our year-long study into the links the University of Glasgow had with historic slavery we were conscious both of the proud part that Glasgow played in the abolitionist movement, and an awareness that we would have benefited, albeit indirectly from that appalling and heinous trade.”

Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland’s first Black professor, told The Guardian in a previous statement that if more institutions followed in Glasgow University’s footsteps, it would make a real change in race relations.

“We can have all the equality laws and anti-racism legislation we like, but if no other institutions, firms, or organizations, which also benefited from slavery declare this and seek to make amends then it’s all meaningless,” Palmer previously told the publication.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.