Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Students of Color in The Messenger

Students of Color in the Messenger

This exhibit uses the lens of the Messenger literary magazine to explore the experiences of students of color at the University of Richmond at multiple points during the twentieth century. In it, you will be introduced to four students of color who contributed to the Messenger by their own words. Alongside their written works are brief biographies and some context about the University and Messenger around the time their pieces were published. To learn more about each item in this exhibit, just click on its photo.

The University of Richmond was and is an unwelcoming and, at times, hostile place for students of color. Some of these students have made a place for themselves in the school’s literary magazine, at times alongside white students whose prose and art employed racist stereotypes. Each of the students you will meet in this exhibit responded in different ways to different issues. It is important to note that their experiences cannot represent those of students of color as a whole.

A Brief History of the Messenger's Relationship with Race

The Messenger literary magazine was first published on the Richmond College campus in 1876 as Monthly Musings. Through the years, many students from Richmond and Westhampton Colleges have submitted prose, poetry, drama, essays, artwork, and more to the publication. Bouts of student apathy have made its acceptance rate and release schedule change by the decade. Some issues boast of only including the best of many submissions while others claim they contain everything that was submitted. As far as frequency of publication, a single issue each year became standard in the 1960s.  At some points in the Messenger’s history, it has accepted pieces from faculty and community members. The Messenger has featured a limited number of works by students of color throughout its run, and most have been from the past decade.

Until the 1960s, most works by white students that featured characters of color were racist and played off of stereotypes. However, there were a few students of color during the twentieth century that made a place for their work in this magazine among these works that exhibited a lack of respect for them.

While racist works were in many of the Messenger's issues in the early twentieth century, they fell off of the radar in the early 1960s, likely due to the Civil Rights Movement and changing attitudes toward awareness of race. This is certainly not to say that the University of Richmond campus was no longer racist, but the portrayal of people of color in such a dehumanizing light was now out of taste. Anti-racist cartoons were published in the 1964 and 1965 issues of the Messenger, and race was not written of in the magazine again for years despite many photos of unnamed, non-student black people being featured during this time.

It was in the 1980s that the Messenger began to talk about race again, albeit in a more positive light than before. The decade saw a handful of pieces about race relations by white students and established the magazine as a more welcoming platform for students of color than it had been in the past. What is believed to be the first piece by a black student was featured in 1984. Since then, more students of color have written about their experiences for the Messenger.

Credits

This exhibit was created by Gabby Kiser ('21) as part of an A&S Summer Fellowship in summer 2019.