Northam signs bill requiring 5 Virginia universities to help descendants of slaves

A new state law will hold five Virginia universities accountable for historically profiting off the work of slaves.

The Enslaved Ancestors College Access Scholarship and Memorial Program, sponsored by Del. David Reid and signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday, requires the five universities to create scholarships or community-based economic development programs to benefit the descendants of slaves by July of next year.

The schools are Longwood University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Military University and The College of William & Mary.

Under the new legislation, all five universities must work over the next year to identify and memorialize enslaved people whose labor each institution benefited from, and are barred from using state money or increases in tuition or fees to pay for the scholarships and community programs.

Northam signed the bill into law on Wednesday at the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, calling it a “powerful” moment.

“For individuals or communities with a demonstrated historic connection to slavery, that will help break the cycle of poverty,” Northam said. “We must tell the full and complete story of our past so that we can move forward to a better future.”

Chris Cruise

Christopher Cruise is a writer, reporter and anchor at WTOP. He has worked at The Voice of America, where he anchored newscasts for the Learning English branch. He is a backup host for Westwood’s morning radio news programs, “America in the Morning” and “First Light,” and contributes to them weekly.

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