Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Browse Exhibits (14 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


The city of Richmond has been an historical home to the Baptist General Association of Virginia, a convention associated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. In 1845, the Southern Baptist Church formed the Foreign Mission Board (renamed International Mission Board), headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. Jeremiah Jeter, president of the Richmond College Board of Trustees, was the first president of the Foreign Mission Board, beginning a long association between Richmond College and Baptist ministries abroad. Baptists chose China as the first site for their evangelistic efforts, dividing China into five missions. In 1922, all Chinese students at the University of Richmond were graduates of Pui Ching Baptist Academy (Pui Ching Middle School) in Canton (Guangzhou), China. Located in what was considered the South China Mission, the school was founded in 1889 and was the first to be created by Chinese Christians rather than Baptist missionaries.

Chinese students have been an integral part of the University of Richmond since at least the early twentieth century. Likely the first non-white students to receive an education at Richmond College, Chinese students have been subject to racial stereotyping and endured racist language, often documented in archival materials. Chinese students from both Richmond and Westhampton College were active members of the University community, preserving and promoting their identities while forming the first cultural and co-ed organizations on campus. This exhibit analyzes archival materials including the written works of Chinese students, photographs, documents, and additionally reflects the open participation of white students in Orientalism. This curated collection of historical documents and images aims to provide insight into the lives of Chinese students at the University of Richmond.

Chinese Student Club 1924A 1924 photograph in The Web, picturing Chinese Club students: J. A. Paau, Y. F. Leung, C. K. Wong, K. F. Cheung, King Mok, P. L. Mok, W. H. Lam, T. L. Sene, and Y. C. Shek. 


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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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Oral Histories


The Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project seeks to expand what is available in the archival record of university history by conducting oral histories highlighting the experiences of groups that are often excluded from the historical record. Beginning in summer 2018, students working with the project began conducting interviews with the purpose of expanding the archival collection of the University. While previous research found elsewhere on this site has led us to find the names of people of color who remain invisible within the University’s official stories about itself, taking up oral history has the ability to capture the lived experiences of these individuals. 

If you would like to participate in this oral history project, please contact project archivist Irina Rogova (urraceproject@gmail.com)

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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Racism in UR Fraternities (1947-1985)


In both the past and the present, University of Richmond social life has been dominated by Greek life. This exhibit aims to present evidence of racism in fraternities from 1947-1985 that created an exclusionary atmosphere for students of color, particularly black students. Whether it is Confederate flags displayed in Greek lodges, fraternity members in blackface, or culturally appropriative costumes and party themes, fraternities clearly exhibited racist behavior even as the University began to integrate and admit black students to the main campus in 1968. These photos were published in the University of Richmond yearbooks, which normalizes these racist actions and shows how representative they were of the University of Richmond experience. These artifacts bring into question the comfort of public racism at the University as these racist items were published in yearbooks well past the period of integration and into the 1980s.

The University's struggle to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and these yearbooks that display racism in fraternities give a glimpse into what life was like for black students who were admitted to a University that struggled to create an inclusive environment. Black students in the 1970s and '80s struggled with the absence of a social life for black students and experiences of racial prejudice from students and faculty. The first black fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, joined the University of Richmond in 1980. Prior to this, there were eleven fraternities on campus, and only one black student was a part of Greek life.

Understanding racism in the University’s past can help us navigate issues of racism in the present such as cultural appropriation in costumes and themed parties, contemporary blackface, and the black doll noose incident in 2008. Confronting the racism of this University’s past can help us understand the current issue of going beyond numerical diversity to inclusion at the University of Richmond, and it can help us navigate a future where different cultures and backgrounds are celebrated not just at this University but in the city of Richmond as well. 

Lost Cause Ideology

These fraternity pages frequently exhibit Lost Cause imagery and ideology with Confederate flags, fraternity group photos on Monument Avenue, and references to Robert E. Lee, the Old South, and the song “Dixie.” Lost Cause ideology has its roots in the justification and glorification of the Civil War as a noble cause embodying Southern ideals. This kind of reasoning hides the role of white supremacy and racism as those who hold to Lost Cause ideology often minimize or deny the role of slavery in the Civil War. Believers in the Lost Cause assert that the war was fought over states’ rights and that slavery was a benevolent institution that civilized African “savages” and brought them to Christianity. 

Monument Avenue

Photographs of fraternity members posing in front of the Monument Avenue statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee highlight the Lost Cause ideology that these statues stand for and symbolize. The erecting of Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia is an example of how the Lost Cause uses public space to create a celebratory and glorified rhetoric of the Confederate cause while ignoring the realities of slavery, lynching, and racism. The first statue erected was Robert E. Lee in 1890, followed by Jefferson Davis and J. E. B. Stuart in 1907, Stonewall Jackson in 1919, and Matthew Fountaine Maury in 1929. In 1996, a statue of Arthur Ashe, a black tennis player and Richmond native, was erected on Monument Avenue. The current debate over what to do with these statues on Monument Avenue confronts us with the painful legacy of slavery and an unbalanced history.


Numerous photographs in the yearbooks show students in blackface, which is when a non-black person wears makeup to represent a caricature of a black person that is often used to mock and ridicule. Blackface was historically performed exclusively for white audiences with a nonblack performer appearing in blackface to play a black role. Minstrelsy and blackface performances were common forms of entertainment on the University of Richmond’s campus in the early 1900s through the early 1960s. Although minstrel shows do not really happen anymore in the present day, contemporary blackface still exists as evidenced by the incident of a blackface Halloween costume on campus in 2007

This exhibit was created by Kristi Mukk ('19) as part an A&S Summer Research Fellowship in summer 2018. 

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


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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