Inclusive Institutional History: Reflections from Special Collections Intern Chloe Leon

On March 3rd, 1865, Union troops rode into Charlottesville, and in their wake many of Albemarle County’s 14,000 enslaved individuals declared themselves free. Since that fateful day, descendants of people enslaved in Charlottesville have been celebrating March 3rd as the anniversary of their ancestors’ liberation. In 2017, the Charlottesville City Council officially recognized March 3rd as an annual holiday and named it “Liberation and Freedom Day.” I had the pleasure of attending the Liberation Day celebrations this year and was treated to a reading of “My Serpentine,” a poem by Jayla Hart, and an extraordinary performance by the Gullah Geechee Ring Shouters.

After the events of Liberation Day, I have been thinking about the memorialization of Black history and the lasting impacts of uncovering and sharing enslaved people’s stories. In my role as an intern with the Law Library’s Special Collections Department, I have spent time sifting through newspaper articles, letters, and deeds trying to uncover more about the lives of people enslaved by the Duke family, who lived in the home known as Sunnyside just behind the Law School. I have read through Duke family documents housed in the Albert & Shirley Small Collections Library on Central Grounds and in Law Special Collections. I also visited the Albemarle County Circuit Courthouse to examine Duke family deeds and wills. Although the existence of enslaved people is evident in the built environment and the family histories of Charlottesville descendants, many of the historical documents about enslaved people were written by those who held them in bondage. Because the enslaved were barred from learning to read and write, their stories were told for them. As evidenced by accounts like R.T.W. Duke Jr’s Recollections, the enslaved were simply “servants” that were treated well and had no reason to seek their freedom. A substantial amount of the information gleaned about enslaved individuals is recovered through persistent and intentional searching because the enslaved were not portrayed holistically and authentically by most white authors.

Seeing members of DEC-UVA and the Gullah Geechee come together on March 3rd in veneration of their ancestors’ lives was beautiful, and I feel privileged to have born witness to the celebration. Liberation Day marks a time to hold space, to remember enslaved people’s resilience and resistance in the face of unimaginable violence and oppression.

The Gullah Geechee Ring Shouters perform in UVA’s Newcomb Hall, Liberation and Freedom Day, March 3, 2023.

Enslaved people’s history is American history, and only when it is embraced can we begin to reckon with the weight of slavery’s aftermaths. Divorcing slavery from the American landscape is impossible, especially at this University. Everything UVA is exists as a result of the forced labor of Black people. This institution owes its successes, its landscape, and its prominence to the lives of those that were enslaved here, and this acknowledgement has only come recently. Faculty and staff here have been doing invaluable work to learn about the University’s history of slavery, and I am proud to say I have worked alongside Addie Patrick (Library Coordinator) and Randi Flaherty (Head of Law Special Collections) on the Historical Landscape of North Grounds project.

My involvement with the project started in September 2022, after Addie and Randi were awarded a Jefferson Trust grant to hire an intern and fund interpretive signage about the Albemarle County Poor House and Charlottesville’s first barbecue grounds, sites situated along the Rivanna Trail behind the Law School. Originally, my work focused on researching the Poor House’s residents and the formerly enslaved people that worked to ensure the barbecues’ success, as well as how best to share those stories on our interpretive signs. One of the barbecue chefs, Caesar Young, was enslaved by the Duke family and continued to work for them after emancipation. He was well-known for his culinary talent alongside John Gilmore, another Black chef who lived and worked in the Georgetown neighborhood close to the Law School. Other chefs included Mandy and Juba Carter, enslaved by the Garth family of Birdwood, and Willis and Robert Fortune. They were all instrumental in the daily lives of prominent Charlottesville families, and the Historical Landscape of North Grounds project is working to bring them, along with other people enslaved on North Grounds, to the forefront. In order to continue this work in conversation with the descendants of the people whose lives we are studying, we have shifted our focus to connecting with the members of DEC-UVA. This semester, my work has been focused on assisting in outreach to the Descendants community, so the project can be a collaborative effort going forward.

Historical storytellers like the Gullah Geechee and organizations like DEC-UVA value Black history and are working to challenge racist, revisionist notions of enslavement. In the U.S., education about slavery is increasingly being sanitized to assuage white guilt, or it is dismissed as useless entirely. In the face of this censorship in education and the backlash against Africana Studies, publicizing the truth about slavery is even more pressing. Liberation and Freedom Day flies in the face of dominant, white supremacist narratives that claim slavery was not oppressive or violent and that we should feel nostalgic for the days of the antebellum South. The Historical Landscape of North Grounds project challenges the narrative that UVA’s North Grounds lacks relevant history and that what happened on this land is irrelevant to the University’s institutional history. Although UVA only purchased the property which became North Grounds in 1963, Law Special Collections recognizes the history of enslavement on North Grounds as part of UVA’s history. Though the University itself did not enslave the people that lived and labored on this land, the institution is still culpable. And it is of paramount importance that UVA continues to acknowledge this history and work with descendants, faculty, staff, and students to tell the full truth of enslavement.

This article was written by Chloe Leon who interned with the Historical Landscape of North Grounds Project during the 2022-2023 academic year. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2023 with a B.A. in African American and African Studies.

Featured image: UVA Law alumni barbecue hosted at Sunnyside, circa 1900. Two Black chefs sit in the foreground of the image by the barbecue pit.

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

Arthur J. Morris Law Library

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Celebrating Juneteenth: Emancipation at UVA 

This Juneteenth, we recognize Henry, a man who emancipated himself in March 1865 with the arrival of Union troops in Charlottesville. He was previously enslaved by UVA Law professor John B. Minor (1845-1895).

In a diary entry dated March 6, 1865, Minor wrote:

“The enemy got upwards of 100 horses between Meechum’s river and [the University of Virginia], and multitudes of servants went off with them, poor misguided creatures! Amongst them my boy Henry, hired in Staunton. I lament it more on his account than my own.”

Minor’s eldest daughter, Mary Lancelot Minor, penned a letter to an aunt a couple days later. She wrote that after escaping to freedom, Henry camped with Union officers on Carr’s Hill, the modern-day location of the UVA president’s home, just opposite the Rotunda. 

Beyond Henry’s moment of self-emancipation, we know little more about him. The Minor family purchased or rented his bondage in Staunton, Virginia, a small city 40 miles west of Charlottesville in the Shenandoah Valley. Through Staunton passed the Valley Pike, one turnpike within a well-traveled line of roads that connected the northeastern United States to the Deep South, modern-day Route 11. Common travelers on this road included forced caravans of enslaved people, bound for slaving markets in Georgia or South Carolina. Staunton’s position on the Valley Pike turned the city into a commercial hub for the slave trade in central Virginia.  

The Union troops that arrived in Charlottesville in March 1865 had come from the Shenandoah Valley as part of a mission to destroy Confederate-held rail lines and infrastructure. After leaving the area of the University of Virginia, they continued eastward. Henry may have followed. He may have enlisted in one of the Union army units for Black soldiers, as many free and emancipated Black men did.  

Importantly, even without additional detail, Henry’s story carries great significance for his own life. Further, his decision to emancipate himself repudiated professor John B. Minor’s claim that enslaved Black Americans preferred enslavement to freedom and were better off in forced servitude, a belief that Minor voiced to his students in his UVA Law lectures. 

Juneteenth is a celebration of emancipation and a reminder that emancipation did not come all at once for enslaved Black Americans. For the many enslaved individuals who remained at UVA after the Union troops departed, including the many whom John B. Minor enslaved, emancipation would come only after the official end of the war in April 1865. 

To learn more about UVA Law’s institutional connections to slavery, visit

Featured image: Pencil sketch of Union General Sheridan’s army following Confederate General Early through the Shenandoah Valley. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Randi Flaherty, Head of Special Collections, co-wrote this article.

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Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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The Law Library Celebrates Fifty Years of BLSA

Fifty years ago, on Friday, October 16, 1970, UVA Law’s Black students formed the Black American Law Students Association (BALSA, now BLSA), a chapter of the National Black Law Students Association. BLSA addressed the growing need for a formal body to voice racial and equity concerns, both at UVA Law and within the Charlottesville community, and establish lasting solutions. In 1970, BLSA members advocated for greater recruitment efforts to increase the number of Black students at the Law School and for greater transparency in the faculty hiring process. At the time, there was not a single Black person on the Law faculty. 

Front page of the Virginia Law Weekly, 23 October 1970. The headline on the left reads "Blacks Inaugurate BALSA Chapter to Provide Forum."
Image Courtesy Virginia Law Weekly.

UVA Law hired its first Black professor, Larry Gibson, in 1972 due in large part to BLSA’s persistent advocacy and strong leadership. To learn more about BLSA’s resilient efforts to increase diversity at UVA Law during its first decade, check out this Spring 2018 article from the UVA Lawyer.

Larry Gibson, Law Professor at UVA from 1972 to 1974.

Through the years, BLSA has pushed for change beyond faculty hiring and student recruitment. BLSA has provided legal services for underserved members of the Charlottesville community, staged successful protests, boycotts, and teach-ins, addressed national issues, and collaborated with the Black Student Alliance, UVA’s undergraduate Black student coalition. As an advocate for racial justice at the Law School, BLSA has also served as a social and philanthropic organization that proudly represents the Law School while always holding it accountable. 

Today, the UVA Law Library Special Collections team is proud to announce our collaboration with BLSA to produce an online exhibit on the organization’s history, set to be released in February 2021 in conjunction with Black History Month. 

We encourage readers to explore BLSA’s social media to learn more about the organization’s history and discover their commemorative efforts and activities. Follow BLSA on Twitter @UVABLSA, find them on Facebook, and check out their website here. 

For further reading:

How BALSA Began, UVA Law News, 9 October 2020 

Photos from 50 Years of BLSA, UVA Law News, 13 October 2020  

UVA BLSA Wins Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Year, 20 February 2020 

Black Law Students Mattered, UVA Lawyer, Spring 2018

UVA Law Special Collections Archives

Select articles from the Virginia Law Weekly [Requires Netbadge login]:

Letter from BLSA to the Editors denouncing implicit racism in editorial published in previous issue, 16 October 1970

Blacks Inaugurate BALSA Chapter to Provide Forum, 23 October 1970

Black Students Request Inquiry by Government, 24 March 1972

BALSA Aids Recruitment of Minorities to Law School, 3 November 1972

BALSA Stages Teach-In; Urges Boycott of Classes, 28 October 1983

Almost 200 Participate in Boycott, 18 November 1983

Robinson Proves You Can Go Home Again, 21 September 1984

BLSA urges divestiture of University funds, 15 February 1985

Focus on Diversity: Is U.Va. Doing Enough? A Call for Diversification, 13 April 1990

Mere Sacrifices: BLSA’s Contribution to the Community, 8 November 1996

BLSA Wins National Chapter of the Year Award, 4 April 2003

Header image: Black American Law Students Association (BALSA, now BLSA) officers, 1974.

Back row, left to right: Ronald R. Wesley ’75, Kester I. Crosse ’75, and Dennis L. Montgomery ’75. 

Front row, left to right: Delores R. Boyd ’75, Jan Freeman ’75, and Sheila Jackson Lee ’75.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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