Feb. 28-March 13, 2003
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‘Slave to Scholar’
Tours highlight African-American history at U.Va.
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‘Slave to Scholar’
Tours highlight African-American history at U.Va.

By Daniela Montalvo

Take a tour of U.Va. any day with the University Guide Service, and you will learn about serpentine walls, rooms on the Lawn, pavilions and, of course, Thomas Jefferson. But if you took a “Slave to Scholar” tour during February, you would have heard quite a different talk — the history of African Americans at the University of Virginia.

Last year, members of the guide service decided to help make the University community aware of this rich history by creating a tour called “From Slave to Scholar: The History of African Americans at U.Va.” The tour highlights the presence of African Americans on Grounds, from their contributions as slaves during the University’s construction to the development of present organizations such as the Office of African-American Affairs.

The tour is the brainchild of Erin-Marie Burke, a fourth-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences.

“As a black female, I realized that my being at the University was a result of many factors that I had no control over, like desegregation, court cases and affirmative action practices,” Burke said. “I started [the tour] with the intention of explaining all aspects of U.Va. history while instilling a sense of pride and ownership within the black community of Charlottesville and University students.”

So what is this rich history? Third-year Arts & Sciences student Ryan O’Donnell, braving the winter weather on Feb. 22, talked to a group of eager tourists about slavery, segregation and current race relations at U.Va.

Slaves helped build the University in the early 1800s while living in the basements of the pavilions on the Lawn, O’Donnell explained.

During the first half of the 20th century, Charlottesville and U.Va., like many other parts of the South, were seeing the effects of segregation. Gregory Swanson broke that barrier when he became the first black student at U.Va., gaining admission to the Law School in 1950. He eventually left because of the uncomfortable racial climate. In 1954, Robert Bland became the first black undergraduate student.
Despite the obstacles, an African-American presence eventually grew at U.Va., and now it is known for its high graduation rate for black students.

Even though the tours have been part of Black History Month, Burke and others would like to see a larger presence.

Myra Franklin, a third-year undergraduate student on O’Donnell’s tour, said, “I am appreciative of the option to have this tour, especially since it explores a not-so-positive past. But I believe it should be a more current option and should be offered year-round.”

To contact the University Guide Service, call 924-3239 or visit the Web site at http://uvaguides.zapto.org/default.htm.


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