Article Written by Beth James & Najee Fuller
In 2015, Roanoke College joined the consortium called “Virginia’s Colleges and Universities Studying Slavery,” a group of higher education institutions dedicated to reckoning and reconciling the often troubling pasts of southern colleges. It consists of over two dozen colleges and universities, including: UNC Chapel Hill, Georgetown, Columbia, and Washington & Lee universities.
Kelley Deetz is a former Assistant Professor of History at Roanoke who organized the group. Deetz currently conducts research at the University of Virginia for the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University.
History professors Whitney Leeson and Mark Miller attended a meeting of the Virginia coalition in April, where Miller spoke on what the next step is for Roanoke College on the path to reconcile its own past tied to slavery.
For Roanoke and many schools like it, that path is riddled with previous transgressions. For example, according to Miller, while Roanoke College and both of its pre-Civil War presidents never owned slaves, the Administration Building and Miller Hall were built by contracted slave labor. Additionally, seven of the sixteen members of the early Board of Trustees were slaveholders, with the Board President owning a total of 89 slaves, he said.
The college is also in the process of restoring and preserving the Monterrey Slave Quarters. Purchased by the school in 2002, the Monterrey estate was once home to at least 20 slaves who lived and worked in the quarters. During her professorship at Roanoke, Deetz taught “Archeology of Slavery”, a class that began to uncover some of the history of the slave quarters through archeological digs and research.
Next semester, Leeson and Miller will continue this hands-on experience in their INQ 300 course, which will focus on the historic preservation of the Monterey House Slave Quarters. The students will be assisting with refurbishing, staging the space, and preparing it for interpretation.
The projects of next semester will culminate in a weeklong residency with Joseph McGill, a black historian whose goal is to sleep in every former slave dwelling in the United States. His residency in November will include a focus on slave architecture, foodways, and the necessity of acknowledging these populations when discussing American history.