An aerial photo of the compass

Addressing VCU's historical connections to slavery

A new VCU-commissioned report documents historical reliance on the labor of enslaved people. VCU will appoint a special commission focused on inclusively pursuing "healing and efforts at reconciliation."

Share this story

Dear VCU community,

As a forward-focused, inclusive and diverse community committed to saving and improving all human lives, VCU must acknowledge and thoughtfully examine the role of racism and the institution of slavery in the institution’s past.

With our full support, in 2021, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation focused on  Virginia’s five oldest colleges and universities – including VCU – researching their historical involvement with slavery to: 

  • Identify enslaved people who were forced to perform labor for those institutions

  • And provide a tangible benefit for individuals or communities with connections to enslaved labor to break cycles of poverty

VCU commissioned a national expert to lead our efforts to more fully understand the Medical College of Virginia’s connections to the institution of slavery. With MCV’s roots dating to 1838, in the city that became the capital of the Confederacy, we anticipated that those connections would be present.

And we were correct. We now have the results of that report, and presented our Board of Directors and Board of Visitors with the executive summary this week. The report demonstrates that MCV was built and operated using the labor of enslaved people. Their work supported the lives of physicians, and their bodies were used without permission for medical research. While these findings were expected, they remain harrowing and disturbing.

We are profoundly sorry for MCV’s history with the institution of slavery. It’s important that we be deliberate and thoughtful, as well as compassionate, about our next steps as we continue to reconcile the institution’s past with its present and future.

Addressing VCU’s History

This report is the latest example of VCU’s commitment to addressing its past. 

More than a decade ago, I charged a representative group to address the East Marshall Street Well. The East Marshall Street Well project has worked to address critical issues and concerns regarding the remains of human beings, believed to be largely of African descent, that were discovered in a well near MCV – with a focus on emphasizing the dignity and respect that should be accorded to these human remains. 

And our VCU Committee on Commemoration and Memorials has worked to remove from VCU buildings and grounds names and symbols that commemorate the Confederacy. That work is ongoing. 

Earlier this year, VCU renamed the Department of African American Studies’ building as Gabriel’s House, in honor of Gabriel, an enslaved Richmond man who organized a rebellion in 1800 intended to end slavery in Virginia.

Next Steps

These experiences demonstrated the importance of working with internal and external community members to ensure that the university’s actions are reflective and transformative. That’s why our next step is to create a special commission to evaluate this report and its findings, and determine our path forward. We will include business and academic leaders, scholars in the field, current and past board members and community members. 

Our goal is to report back to the Board of Visitors by the end of this academic year.

We want an engaged, inclusive and reflective conversation by creating and providing spaces to engage in processes of racial healing and efforts at reconciliation. We expect this will result in truly meaningful action. This is an important time to continue making purposeful changes that reflect the inclusive public university and health system that we are today – and accord respect and dignity to all human beings, present as well as past. 

I want to see VCU lead as a model nationally and beyond with actions that make a difference in the lives of all human beings. 

As we move forward with this project, thank you for your support as VCU reckons with its past, engages with its present and strengthens all communities for the future. 


Michael Rao

VCU President