Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Browse Exhibits (1 total)

"Dark Side of College Life"

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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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