Old campus photo

Reparations

Virginia Theological Seminary designated $1.7 million as a reparations endowment fund.

In September 2019, VTS announced the creation of an endowment dedicated to the payment of reparations, and the intent to research, uncover, and recognize Black people who labored on-campus during slavery, Reconstruction, and segregation under Jim Crow laws. The endowment is a part of the Seminary’s commitment to recognizing its participation in oppression in the past and commitment to healing and making amends in the future. Additional funds have been allocated to support the work of Black congregations that have historical ties to the Seminary; to create programs that promote justice and inclusion; and to elevate the work and voices of Black alumni and clergy within The Episcopal Church.

Click Here for Reparations Intake Form

The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D. dean
and president of VTS, explained:

“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. This is the Seminary recognizing that along with repentance for past sins, there is also a need for action.”

The program will be administered by the Office of Multicultural Ministries. The Director, the Rev. Joseph Thompson, Ph.D. said, “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. 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.”

This fund is fully funded by Virginia Theological Seminary as part of our commitment to recognizing the racism in our past and working toward healing and reconciliation in the future.

Researchers

Elizabeth Drembus is a genealogist for the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), specializing in patriots of color and the lineages to their descendants. Prior to working for the DAR, she worked for George Washington’s Mount Vernon, educating visitors about the enslaved laborers at the historic site. For over a decade, Drembus has contributed her historical research expertise to projects in collaboration with local organizations, including the Alexandria Archaeology Museum in Alexandria, VA.

Drembus brings her passion for researching Northern Virginia’s free and enslaved African American families and communities of the 18th and 19th centuries to the VTS Reparations Project, where she researches the antebellum period and finds the names of enslaved persons who worked on the campus.  She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband and two sons.  She enjoys photography and researching her own family tree. Elizabeth is a longtime member of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Alexandria, VA.

Char McCargo Bah is the CEO and owner of FindingThingsforU, LLC. She has undergrad degrees in Urban Studies and African American Studies and holds several professional certificates. She has been a genealogist since 1981 with membership in over 30 genealogical societies, historical societies, and authors’ organizations. 

She is on contract with the Virginia Theological Seminary’s Reparations Project, the Sharon Chapel Recognition Project, and several other genealogical projects. McCargo Bah was named the 2020 Virginia Humanity Scholar and 2019 Who Who’s in America. She is the author of two books and an anthology, most recently publishing Alexandria’s Freedmen’s Cemetery: A Legacy of Freedom and is a freelance writer for Alexandria Gazette.  

Christopher Pote is the archivist at Virginia Theological Seminary, a position he has held for over 12 years. He was previously the archivist for the African American Episcopal Historical Collection. Christopher holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the Pennsylvania State University, a Master of Science degree in Library Science from the Catholic University of America, and is certified by the Academy of Certified Archivists. His research strengths are the Seminary’s history, Episcopalianism in the state of Virginia, and the general history of the Episcopal Church. During his personal time, Christopher enjoys photography, fishing, baseball, and playing with his dog.

Maddy McCoy‘s work is primarily focused on the early African American experience in the mid-Atlantic region. She is the founding director of Slavery Inventory Database, an historical research consultancy established in 2005 with the mission of creating connections to those whom history has forgotten. The Slavery Inventory Database primarily works with historic house museums and historic sites by helping them identify and interpret their enslaved populations and narratives.  

McCoy’s experience in the field has resulted in a wealth of earned knowledge of both local history and historical familial connections. Maddy has an intuitive understanding of how historic records can provide a voice to the intentionally silenced and the historically excluded  this allows her to breach the wall of slavery so that people may better understand their roots and restore important foundational connections. Her belief is this work must be done to create a more just, equitable, and empathetic society. 

Frequently Asked Questions about the Reparations Initiative

Yes. Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) was born, bred, and operated within the economy based on chattel slavery. VTS knows that the majority of the founders, three of the first four professors,  benefactors, as well as the institution itself, held Black people in bondage during the antebellum south. The Seminary hired enslaved Black people from local constituents and hired contractors that used enslaved persons and the discounted labor of freedmen. VTS constructed slave quarters on campus and operated daily as a traditional Southern, slave-based institution. This is not unique in The Episcopal Church in that 82% of the clergy within the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 1860 were enslavers.

Most service jobs on campus were performed by Black people, both free and enslaved, including personal servants and farm laborers. Southern students often brought enslaved servants to the Seminary with them, and the Education Society at the Seminary provided funds for slave labor for the institution and the students it supported financially. After the Civil War and well into the 20th century, VTS continued to exploit the labor of Black men and women. While free, these workers were not fairly compensated because of their limited employment options under the system of de jure segregation. 

In the post antebellum period (from 1878 to 1949), African American seminarians enrolled in the Bishop Payne Divinity School in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1951, VTS was desegregated. The first African American student was John T. Walker, who graduated from the Seminary in 1954. Walker would go on to become the first African American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, as well as dean of Washington National Cathedral. 

Acting on the assumption that labor should be fairly compensatedVirginia Theological Seminary has decided to provide cash payments to descendants of enslaved people who worked on campus as a form of reparations. People who were not compensated, or were under-compensated, were deprived of the opportunity to choose how to use the fruit of their labor. They could neither spend during their lifetimes nor make provisions for their descendants. That means several successive generations of formerly enslaved persons, and those who labored under Jim Crow laws lost the opportunity to provide something for their descendants.

VTS does not believe that there is an amount of money to compensate for the suffering that took place, but the Seminary does affirm the principle that a form of cash reparations is appropriate for the descendants of people exploited on campus. 

According to research, it is likely that at least 290 enslaved and free people labored at Virginia Theological Seminary during the antebellum period – from 1823 to 1865. During the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, the Seminary suspects that there were hundreds more.

The five goals of this initiative are:

  1. Build relationships with descendants when and if they are willing and interested, including the stories of their ancestors in the Seminary’s history, and providing them or their designees with disbursements from the Reparations fund.
  2. Build relationships with the two local African American congregations with close historical ties to VTS: Meade Memorial Episcopal Church and Oakland Baptist Church.
  3. Support African American alums working in historically Black congregations.
  4. Raise up African Americans to be trained for leadership (lay or ordained) in congregations.
  5. Support projects related to racial and social justice.

The initiative was built to be flexible so that, in the future, more emphasis can be placed on systemic investment rather than on individual payments, if the families should determine they wish to go in that direction. VTS views the individual payments as the beginning of a reparative process that is likely to go on for generations, involving an ongoing dialogue between the families, the Seminary, and all those who support the concept of reparations.   

The funds from the Reparations initiative go to “shareholders,” living direct descendants that are members of the generation closest to the person who labored at VTS between 1823 and 1951.

Shareholders are found via research from a dedicated team, reviewing both the antebellum era and Jim Crow segregation, as well as individuals who have learned about the program and contacted program leaders.

Yes. Given that many Black families with historical ties to Virginia Theological Seminary still live near the VTS campus, the Seminary would have been remiss not to attempt working with them directly.

In 2018, Virginia Theological Seminary leadership set aside $1.7 million for an outreach fund; it was decided in 2019 that it would be completely devoted to forming a reparations “initiative.” The money is a portion of the Seminary’s overall endowment. Payments will be drawn from this fund annually at the same rate that VTS uses annually to draw money from the endowment for the institutional operating budget.

The Seminary is in agreement. The amount was not based upon an estimation of the value of the labor that was exploited. The initial investment is considered a seed that the institution can and will grow over time.

The payments are delivered annually.

While information can be shared publicly by shareholders, VTS does not disclose payment amounts.

No. The exact amount is determined annually, based upon the yield of the Reparations endowment and the number of shareholders who have been confirmed by the research team. 

This initiative will continue in perpetuity. 

Yes. After payments were publicly reported (in Spring 2021), gifts to the Reparations initiative have increased. The fund accepted large and small gifts, from both long-time members of the Seminary community and new friends inspired by the initiative. 

Currently the reparations initiative remains at $1.7 million. Like any endowed fund it grows and fluctuates at the rate of market inflation.  

The modus operandi of slavery and Jim Crow was to seek total control of Black lives and communities. Thus, VTS felt that the attempt to make amends to descendants should involve the relinquishment of control on the part of the institution, in some way. It is one thing, for example, to make a descendant apply for a housing grant from a reparations endowment or to apply for need-based assistance. It is another thing to provide them with a share of the endowment fund that they may use however they wish. Very few, if any, controls have ever been placed on the wealth amassed by Americans of European descent in an economic system that has consistently advantaged whiteness.

VTS remains committed to the five goals of the Reparations initiative:

  1. Build relationships with descendants when and if they are willing and interested, including the stories of their ancestors in the Seminary’s history, and providing them or their designees with disbursements from the Reparations fund.
  2. Build relationships with the two local African American congregations with close historical ties to VTS: Meade Memorial Episcopal Church and Oakland Baptist Church.
  3. Support African American alums working in historically Black congregations.
  4. Raise up African Americans to be trained for leadership (lay and ordained) in congregations.
  5. Support projects related to racial and social justice.

If you are interested in one of these areas, please contact reparations@vts.edu. Someone will contact you in order to discuss your idea and how to apply for funding. If you subsequently apply, the committee that determines reparations policy will review your proposal and determine whether or not to fund it.

Multicultural Ministries Contact

The Rev. Joseph Thompson, Ph.D.
Director of Multicultural Ministries
Virginia Theological Seminary
3737 Seminary Road,
Alexandria, VA 22304

Phone: (703) 461-1732
Email: reparations@vts.edu

Multicultural Ministries Contact

Ebonee Davis
Associate for Programming & Historical Research for Reparations
Virginia Theological Seminary
3737 Seminary Road,
Alexandria, VA 22304

Phone: (703) 461-1702
Email: reparations@vts.edu

Media Contact

Curtis Prather
Director of Communications and Marketing
Virginia Theological Seminary
3737 Seminary Road,
Alexandria, VA 22304

Phone: (703) 461-1782 
Email: cprather@vts.edu