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.


Exhibit curated by Bailey Duplessie, Dom Harrington, and Madeleine Jordan-Lord