Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Browse Exhibits (11 total)

"Dark Side of College Life"



This exhibit illustrates the tension between how African-American University Staff members were recognized between 1914 and 1932. This exhibit explores how racism was articulated at the University through photographs, student literature, student news articles, and community publications.

With a focus on African-American staff members, the exhibit demonstrates how their representation (Featured Staff) and lack of representaton (Unnamed Staff) explain the variety of ways racism at the University manifested itself over the years.

Throughout our research in the Virginia Baptist Historical Society archives, we came across an image in the 1915 yearbook captioned, "Dark Side of College Life." The photo shows nearly a dozen unidentified African-Americans on the University of Richmond's campus.

This photo raised questions in our study about the ways in which African-American staff members were represented, remembered, and acknowledged by students and administration at the University of Richmond. The fact that they were pictured could demonstrate appreciation of their work because they were made visible through the photographs in the yearbook. In contrast, the staff members are unnamed, their titles unlisted. Their position could be interpreted from their dress, but where they belong at the University is unknown. There are, however, two exceptions: Esau Brooks and John Johnson, whose service to the University was recognized and at times commemorated in school publications.

When thinking back to "Dark Side of College Life," we began to question how the contributions of African-American staff members were both silenced and praised. When looking at this in the context of the racial dynamics of the City of Richmond, we realized that African-American staff members at the University of Richmond were often silenced regardless of the impact they had on student life. Having seen the ways in which the representations of John Johnson and Esau Brooks contrast with photos like "Dark Side of College Life" in which staff were unnamed, unrecognized, and silenced, we realized that racism at the University of Richmond was complex; racism manifested itself in the representations of both the recognized and unnamed staff members.

Despite the stark differences between these two presentations of staff at the University, we do not intend to suggest that racism works in a light and dark binary, but rather that racism operates in complex ways. Depsite the fact that staff members from 1914-1932 were made visible in University publications, many were still nameless and only identified by their role as laborers. 

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Chinese Student Experience


During the early twentieth century, Chinese students, mostly from Canton, China, came to the University of Richmond as members of the Baptist Ministry, which founded by the University in 1830. In the early 20th century, American missionaries were going overseas to China to spread the Christian faith. Chinese students arrived to the University as Baptists joining a larger Christian community in addition to receiving an American education. Many of the Chinese students from both Richmond and Westhampton College were active members of the University community. This exhibit analyzes primary texts including written works of Chinese students attending the University, photos, documents, clubs and activities, and writing reflecting white students' imaginings of Chinese students. This collection of historical documents and images aims to provide insight into Chinese students' experiences.



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Faculty Response to Institutional and National Change (1968-1973)


Why now?

To date, the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond project has examined several key players to the university campus: college presidents, students, and staff.  However, a major group of folks that have the power to shape the culture of the school is missing: faculty and administrative staff.  To look at their role at the University, I chose a five-year window, 1968-1973, defined by change for both the university and the nation to explore exactly how these figures fit into this project. In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, racially restrictive covenants became illegal in real estate, two Olympic athletes staged the iconic silent protest by raising their fists instead of placing their hands on their chests during a medal presentation ceremony, and Star Trek aired the country’s first televised interracial kiss.  A Virginia case, Green v. New Kent, made it all the up to the Supreme Court where the justices ruled that “freedom of choice” was not a legal response to Brown v. Board of Education as it was not a sufficient method to integrate the school system.  That same year, the University of Richmond enrolled its first residential black student, Barry Greene, on its main campus.  Barrier shattering changes filled the rest of these years as well, particularly with the rise of liberatory movements for women, black folks, and the LGBTQ community to the anti-war movements that swept the nation.



Faculty belonged to one of three colleges: Westhampton College, Richmond College, and University College on Lombardy Avenue (UCLA).  Westhampton College, established in 1914, and Richmond College, founded in 1840,  were the women's’ and men's’ colleges, respectively. Before Richmond College was officially established in 1840, it was a Baptist Seminary; these Baptist roots shaped every aspect of the University, that is, until the 1960s and 1970s when both faculty members and students began challenging the constraints, and sometimes discrimination, that came along with this Baptist affiliation.  University College was a satellite site of the University of Richmond, opened in 1962, as an educational alternative and a connection to the business community of Richmond. Through an examination of documents in the archive, UCLA was often cast as the “inferior” choice for the less qualified students.  It offered night classes and accepted its first black student in 1964, Walter Carpenter.  Within these colleges, there were separate divisions, which were clusters of majors.  


Argument and Questions

This exhibit grapples with a couple of driving questions: (1) What role did faculty play in challenging, perpetuating, and/or remaining complicit in systems of oppression? (2) Were there certain faculty members more likely to resist oppressive mandates such as women, ethnic and religious minorities, or even faculty member from certain departments?

To answer these questions, this exhibit utilizes former University President George Modlin’s papers from the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, The Richmond Collegian Archive, the student newspaper, and editions of The Web, the University of Richmond yearbook.  By attempting to answer the aforementioned questions with these documents, I argue that not only do faculty need their place in narratives of Race & Racism at the University of Richmond, they were also responsible for being complicit in, and in some cases, actively resisting systems of oppression that shaped the campus environment.  For this exhibit, I focus on how faculty responded to religious discrimination, racial discrimination, and student dissent- all of which determined the culture of the campus as being inclusive only for those who fit the University’s model of acceptable- white, conservative, and Baptist.

George Modlin's Segregated University of Richmond


Who was George Modlin? 

George Matthews Modlin was the fourth president of the University of Richmond (1946-1971). During his tenure, the University’s annual budget increased exponentially; investment in construction of new buildings rose to 24 million. Among these new buildings were the Law School and Boatwright Memorial Library. By the time Modlin left office in 1971, the student body had grown from about 2,300 to 7,000, making the University the largest private institution of higher education in Virginia.

Modlin earned his doctorate from Princeton University where he eventually taught economics. When he came to the University of Richmond, he served as an Economics Professor and the dean of the Evening School of Business Administration until 1946. He then took on the role of president and the chairman of the Economics department. After Modlin stepped down from this role, he served as a chancellor for fifteen more years. Beyond his duties at the University, he was also involved with organizations within the Richmond area and abroad. Modlin served as the president of the following organizations: Member Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Southern University Conference, Southern Association Baptist Schools and Colleges, and Association of Virginia Colleges. 

Fall 2016 Class

What is his archive? 

The University of Richmond accepted its first black student to University College on Lombardy Avenue, an alternative site for "day campus" course offerings, in 1964 and integrated the main campus four years later in 1968. Up to this point, President Modlin corresponded with many different individuals and organizations such as the Association of American Law Schools, various Baptist-affiliated organizations, University alumni, leaders of other institutions of higher education, and University of Richmond students themselves. It is in this folder, titled "Segregation Matters," that one can see what exactly led up to the integration of the University of the Richmond through the lens of its president himself.

How does this exhibit use the archive? 

This exhibit utilizes the sources found in George Modlin’s collection of documents regarding segregation from his time as president at the University of Richmond. Through a close reading of the correspondence in this collection, a narrative of social power at the University of Richmond begins to unfold. This exhibit hopes to give texture to the narrative of desegregation on the University of Richmond’s campus. Rather than leave the story of integration as a natural social progression from segregated student life to desegregated student life, the documents in the segregation folder of Modlin’s archive indicate the pressure placed on University of Richmond’s administration in the 1950s and ‘60s to change policy. Letters from alumni, Baptist organizations (Baptist Churches and Baptist-Affiliated Universities), and the American Association of Law Schools indicate that outside pressure from constituents with social, political, and economic power may have created push factors for policy change. This exhibit will look at some of the factions that wrote to Modlin about the issue of segregation at the University of Richmond and will examine the arguments made regarding maintaining or dismantling policies on segregation.  

What sources does this exhibit bring together? 

This exhibit brings together many documents that reveal the alumni in support of desegregation.While looking into the George Modlin documents we did not find much information about the people who supported segregation, but we are aware that there were tensions on both sides. Because of this, we recognize the limitations of our research being that we are mainly seeing resistance to segregation. As a result, we are unable to see how passionate some alumni were to keep the University segregated.

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Performance & Policy: Construction of Race Through A Musical Lens


This exhibit examines the ways that music can help us to understand the attitudes surrounding race and racism held not only by students but also faculty members at the University of Richmond between 1932 and 1938. To begin, this exhibit discusses choral teacher Charles Troxell and his influence on the Richmond College Glee Club over many years in service as director. The next section of our exhibit zeroes in on the performances of the University’s all-white, male Richmond College Glee Club by pinpointing the problematic inclusion of minstrelsy and Negro spirituals in their various performances. Lastly, we further our research by examining campus policy surrounding what genres of music students were permitted and prohibited to play. By looking at performances showcased by white students as well as the restrictive policy of musical genres put in place by white faculty members, this exhibit endeavors to add a new narrative to the larger Race & Racism initiative. Through an examination of select primary source documents, we find white dominance asserted through the types of music that the students were allowed to engage in versus the genres of music that the University restricted through policy, thus constructing students’ views and experiences with African Americans. 


Sources Used:

This exhibit draws on articles from the University of Richmond's school newspaper, The Collegian, and the school literary magazine, The Messenger, to provide insight into what students believed was important to write about during this period. This exhibit also utilizes online, non-University sources to provide more historical context regarding how minstrel shows, Negro spirituals, and policy generally existed in society and popular culture during this time. By looking at University sources as well as outside sources, this exhibit can shed light on, and expand upon, the relationship between race and music, and the way that attitudes around race and racism were constructed through permission of problematic musical performances and restriction of certain music genres.

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Resistance & Compliance


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It was first proposed by President John F. Kennedy, and eventually signed into law by Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson. It also banned discrimination in elementary schools, secondary schools, and institutions of higher learning. The act forbade the use of federal funds for any discriminatory program that would perpetuate school segregation.

It was not until 1968 that the University of Richmond was made to realize that it’s recruitment practices failed to align with federal guidelines. In a letter from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Dr. Eloise Severinson stated that as the University recieved federal funding it was required to ensure that students of color had access to, and were represented within, the University.

Though President Modlin, on the behalf of the University, agreed to begin the process of integrating the school, it is unclear how integrated he intended the school to become, and just how far the school would go to follow federal guidelines. This exhibit explores the controversy around the University’s compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the efforts it made to progress in terms of integration.

This exhibit was produced by Julia Marcellino, Collin Kavanaugh and Destiny Riley. 


Silence in the Archives: The Case of Russell Jones


“ A petition was drawn and sent to the Board of Trustees and the President asking for no discrimination against any race at any future interracial affair. Today this petition is being given the well known cold shoulder by everyone involved.” - University of Richmond Collegian newspaper, 1944. 

Russell Jones

On February 16, 1944, Russell Jones, an African-American Virginia Union University student, was forced to dine separately from white students at the University of Richmond. Russell Jones was the former chairman of the Richmond Intercollegiate Council -- a council formed by students from several Virginia institutions such as: Virginia Union, Richmond Professional Institute and Medical College of Virginia (now known collectively as Virginia Commonwealth University), the University of Richmond and more.  One of the main goals of the RIC, as Jones himself described, was to “... get closer understanding among the students of the colleges in this city, and especially between the students of the two races…” (Collegian, 1944). Part of this effort was an event in which Jones was invited by the Young Women’s Christian Association to speak on the University of Richmond campus. Following his speech, Russell Jones found himself barred, amidst student protest, from joining the students for a meal because of his race.

Speaking through Silence

This exhibit will focus on how the Russell Jones’ case both influenced, and was already part of, a larger conversation at the University of Richmond. During the time that Jones was separated from the white students, the University of Richmond had yet to allow African-American students to attend. It was not until 1968 when the first residential African-American student was allowed to attend an integrated University of Richmond. To examine these conversations, however, we must acknowledge that one voice is missing from the story: the voice of Russell Jones himself.  The lack of documentation prevents this exhibit from telling Russell Jones’ story, and it must instead use Jones’ case as a lens through which we explore the conversations on race that happened amongst the students and administration at UR -- both those for and against bettering race relations between whites and African Americans.


This exhibit will feature a variety of sources. Articles from the Collegian newspaper, correspondence between the students and administration -- namely president F.W. Boatwright, Dean May Keller, Board of Trustees, etc. -- and local news and events, such as the Virginius Dabney Proposal, will be utilized in order to deconstruct the conversations on race that were happening during this time. The metadata suggests a number of opposing views influenced by gender, religion, and age. Yet, we recognize that we are limited by the availability of source material. Therefore, we acknowledge that we cannot fully represent the mindset of the Richmond campus during this time. However, with our evidence, we can develop an improved understanding of the complex relationships of race at the University of Richmond.  



"Come On, Kids, Let's Snooze." The Richmond Collegian XXX, no. 12, (April 14, 1944): 2. http://collegian.richmond.edu/cgi-bin/richmond?a=d&d=COL19440414.2.11&srpos=2&e=01-01-1939-31-12-1945--en-20--1--txt-txIN-negro+speaker-ARTICLE-----#

"Intercollegiate Council Seeks Active Members." The Richmond Collegian XXX, no. 8, (February 8, 1944): 1. http://collegian.richmond.edu/cgi-bin/richmond?a=d&d=COL19440218.2.2&srpos=6&e=------194-en-20--1--txt-txIN-RIC----1944--#



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Student Life and White Supremacy

The Web_1922_364.jpg

In 1914, when Richmond College moved to the University's current location, Westhampton College for women opened as well. Most of the students in these coordinate colleges were white, and many were from Virginia or nearby states. Though there were a few international students present at the time, student life was dominated by clubs and other organizations that catered to the interest of white students. 

In this exhibit, we explore questions about the role cultural geography plays in memory, performance, and championing whiteness. In their article “Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric,”  Thomas Nakayama and Robert Krizek suggest that we ought to “examine whiteness as a rhetorical construction and discuss the ways in it re-secures its central position” (292). Located in the capital of the former Confederacy, the University of Richmond provides us with materials through which to gain unique insight into the culture of white supremacy during the early 1900s. Documents about student life at the University during this time enable us to examine campus culture and race relations more closely. The pages of this exhibit analyze how white supremacy was maintained on the University of Richmond’s campus through everyday life and culture in the forms of performances, clubs, and literary works.


Nakayama, Thomas K., and Robert L. Krizek. "Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric." Quarterly Journal of Speech 81, no. 3 (1995): 291-309. doi:10.1080/00335639509384117.



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Students of Color at UR


Item # 308: "Westhampton's YWCA Is Involved," The Collegian, 1971. 

This exhibit looks at representations of students of color at the University of Richmond between 1946 and 1971 along with student anti-racist advocacy. We use the phrase "students of color" to refer to African American, Latino/a, and Asian student. In so doing, we acknowledge that these students did not share a singular experience as minorities at a predominantly white university. 

Despite the presence of students of color during this period, many of their experiences are not reflected in the documents from which the exhibit draws. Many of the students voicing their opinions on racism and desegregation were themselves white. Typically students of color are discussed from an outsider's perspective, presented and written about by white students and administrators, whose opinions had a wide and often conflicting range. Despite rarely having their own voice in the university's history, there are examples of students of color creating a space and expressing themselves despite the white majority. There is evidence of the development of a racial consciousness to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.  

In her essay "Expanding the Ivory Tower: Radicalism and Black Student Life at the University of Richmond", Victoria Charles explores how black students became activists at the University of Richmond. She argues, "The black students that started entering the University of Richmond were radical because they shifted the existing student organizations, the aims of the administration, and racial demographics of the school. The decision to come to Richmond despite its image and the racial turmoil occurring in the world was bold. Once black students were settled in at the university they joined social organizations and sports teams and effectively sprinkled black faces and black perspectives onto formerly all-white spaces."  Students were able to change the progression of the University by fighting for their voices to be heard with the help of other students on campus. This exhibit will eventually be expanded to capture the voices of these students.

This exhibit explores the representation of students of color and anti-racist advocacy, as reflected in the Collegian, alumni bulletins, and university correspondence. Additional work developing content on the experiences of students of color to come.

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The Black Student Experience at the University of Richmond main campus: (1970 - 1992)


Introduction (1970 -1973):


The University of Richmond’s black student integration experience is a tale of feet dragging by the University administration, threats of defunding from the federal government, and some resistance from the student body.  University of Richmond jumped through hurdles to avoid integration and maintain federal funding after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, complete with creating University College to cater to the “nontraditional” student. In 1968 the University of Richmond had its first full time black student enrolled in Richmond College, Barry Greene. Black students at UR had to fight to cultivate spaces for themselves where their opinions were acknowledged as legitimate, and their experiences were not discredited within the predominately white institution.

In 1971 an article was published by the Collegian called, “Product of Neglect: The Absence of A Black Social Life,” in which students addressed the need for more black students on campus, claiming that students had to travel to neighboring universities for a social life. At the time of the article there were ten black men and three black women enrolled at UR.  University of Richmond branded itself as a white, Baptist, local, private university. As a result, it had trouble recruiting black students. Articles from the Collegian however, push for greater consideration on the amount of effort that was put into black student recruitment past what was necessary to receive federal funding. In 1973 the Collegian published an article called "Registrars Seek to Overcome 150 Years Of Black Exclusion." In the article the Director of Admissions at Westhampton College, Mary Allen Anderson, said, “We have more applicants now than we will ever have beds for, thus there is really no sensible reason for an active recruiting program.” In the same article, however it says that Richmond College participated in Project Access and the National Scholarship for Negro Students list in an attempt to recruit students.

Racism was not eradicated with the admission of the first black students to UR.  In 1971 the Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA) passed a resolution for the school band to stop playing Dixie at university functions. The song Dixie was born out of blackface minstrel shows and became the unofficial battle song of the Confederacy. The song is a symbol of segregation and slavery. The resolution was overturned however by a majority of the student body claiming the song was of “traditional historic value” according to an article called “366 Students Cheer ‘Dixie’,” published in 1971. Black students continued to feel ostracized by the song. Norman Williams claimed that the song reminded him of the Old south, slavery, and bondage. Instead of the University getting involved and distancing itself from symbols of the Confederacy, Thomas N. Pollard Jr., the Richmond College Registrar, in response to black students saying they would not have come to UR had they heard the song played on campus before their admission, said that black recruits would never find out the song is played, calling it a “so-so” issue.  Pollard’s response exemplifies the University’s indifference and lack of interest in creating an environment where black students were welcomed.

Not only did black students have to fight for acknowledgment and legitimacy from the administration, but also from their fellow peers. G. Edmond Massie in a Collegian Forum published in 1971 called “Bigotry from a Minority,” said, “The current furor over the playing of “Dixie” and any display of the Confederate flag…Both supposedly representing “racism” … is a prime example of bigotry in its most potent form: a minority attempting to force its will on the majority.” Additionally, 366 students voted against the Dixie resolution believing the song was of historical value while only 276 voted for it. Although the vote in support of Dixie won, almost half of the student body supported black students and voted against it.

Black students did not have spaces for themselves on campus where their feelings, opinions, and right to be students were not questioned. There were no black faculty or administrators on campus; the only black adult face students would have seen would have been the custodians or the gardeners. This exhibit will explore the acts of activism, intentional or not,  by black students through their experience at UR in their creation of clubs and organizations. Additionally, it will explore the tension that existed between black students and the administration in their attempt to be integrated into the campus.



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