Reparations bill targets five Virginia schools with history of slavery

Five public colleges in Virginia with ties to slavery may be forced to pay reparations under legislation that passed Thursday in the Virginia House of Delegates.

The schools, which were built before 1865 and maintained by slaves, include the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Military Institute, the College of William & Mary and Longwood University.

“This is an opportunity for these universities to give back,” said Democratic Del. David Reid, the Loudoun County representative who is pushing for the legislation.

“They owe their foundational success to the enslaved labor who helped build and run the institutions in their early days.”

Reid’s bill would require the schools to pay reparations by either creating a community-based grant program or by offering scholarships to descendants of slaves.

“Individuals or specific communities with a demonstrated historic connection to slavery” would qualify for the benefits, according to the legislation.

The schools would need, to the extent possible, to work with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to identify all the enslaved people who labored on their properties.

It would take effect in the 2022-2023 academic year.

“I believe that some of the individuals who are descendants of the people who helped establish these universities would benefit,” said Reid.

The schools would not be allowed to pay for the reparations using state funding or any tuition or fee increases.

Reid suggested that they use their endowments as funding.

“I’m leaving it up to the universities to determine how they fund this,” he said. “They actually have endowments that range from $71 million to $9.6 billion.”

The country has been discussing reparations in one way or another since slavery officially ended in 1865.

In recent years, Georgetown University announced funding commitments to benefit descendants of enslaved people.

A majority of undergraduates voted in 2019 for a nonbinding referendum to pay a $27.20-per-semester “Reconciliation Contribution” toward projects in underprivileged communities that are home to some descendants of 272 slaves who were sold in 1838 to help pay off the school’s debts.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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