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(Alexandria, VA) – Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) announced today that the institution remains committed to funding the reparations program that it created in September of last year for descendants of enslaved persons who worked on the campus and for the descendants of persons of African descent who were employed there during the Jim Crow era. Despite the tightening of budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting impacts on the economy, the funding for the reparations program will remain the same.
Since the program was announced, a research team has been assembled to gather historical documentation of African Americans working at the seminary in the targeted time frame. This effort has included combing through institutional and public records, as well as conducting oral history interviews with family members of African Americans who worked on the campus in the early 20th century.
“Progress is still being made. As with most aspects of all of our lives during the pandemic, our research team had to adjust to the new realities, which meant slowing down a bit” said the Rev. Joseph D. Thompson, Jr., Ph.D., who oversees the administration of the program. “Knowing that the program remains intact, we look forward, in the next phase of this project, to deepening the dialogue with descendants as to how we can best memorialize their ancestors, incorporate those neglected stories into the history of the institution, collaborate with the larger movement for governmental reparations, and utilize the reparations funds to do some good. It is especially important at this time when so many around the country are demanding a change in the conditions that have oppressed Black lives for centuries.”
In September 2019, VTS announced that the Seminary would create an endowment fund from which the income will fund reparation.
Virginia Theological Seminary recognizes that enslaved persons worked on the campus, and that even after slavery ended, VTS participated in segregation. VTS recognizes that we must start to repair the material consequences of our sin in the past.
The income from the endowment will be allocated annually in conversation with key stakeholders for the following purposes:
- the needs emerging from local congregations linked with VTS;
- the particular needs of any descendants of enslaved persons that worked at the Seminary;
- the work of African American alumni/ae, especially in historic Black congregations;
- the raising up of African American clergy in The Episcopal Church;
- other activities and programs that promote justice and inclusion.
The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D. dean and president of VTS, explained: “This is a start. As we seek to mark the 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 is 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.”
Founded in 1823 as a beacon of hope in a country new and finding its way, Virginia Theological Seminary has led the way in forming leaders of the Episcopal Church, including the Most Rev. John E. Hines (VTS 1933, D.D. 1946), former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; the Rt. Rev. John T. Walker (VTS 1954, D.D. 1978), the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; and theologian, author and lay preacher Ms. Verna J. Dozier (VTS D.D. 1978). Serving the worldwide Anglican Communion, Virginia Theological Seminary educates approximately 25% of those being ordained who received residential theological education. Visit Virginia Seminary online: www.vts.edu.