November 13, 2023
The call for a legislative commission aims to uncover the impact of public universities on the seizure and displacement of Black communities.
The call of a legislative commission aims to uncover the impact of public universities on the seizure and displacement of Black communities. Delores McQuinn, a Virginia state representative, and other legislators were “troubled” by recent reports of how Virginia universities have dislodged Black families, according to ProPublica. She is now sponsoring a commission to not only research uprooted Black communities but to explore cases of families who were allegedly forced to sell their homes.
McQuinn, who was reelected this past election, said she hopes that “these efforts will result in solution-oriented steps toward addressing past inequities,” the news outlet reported.
I appreciate and thank the members of the Virginia Education Association for stopping by my office to share their 2023 legislative agenda. pic.twitter.com/41DHPd6Q70
— Delegate Delores McQuinn (@DelegateMcQuinn) January 20, 2023
FROM SHOE LANE TO EMINENT DOMAIN
The outlet reports that McQuinn’s call for action was partly motivated by the story of Shoe Lane in Newport News, Virginia. It was a Black community eradicated by the expansion of Christopher Newport University. Around 1960, before the seizure, 20 Black families, including teachers, dentists, a high school principal, and a NASA engineer, owned ranch-style houses along Shoe Lane and three other streets. The 110-acre area and farmland were expected to thrive with incoming Black owners, but the Newport News City Council had other intentions.
In 1961, a branch of the College of William & Mary system was built on Shoe Lane as a result of eminent domain. The government wielded its right to forcibly purchase the private property of Shoe Lane residents for public use. The home of white, affluent neighborhoods and a segregated country club was just a drive away.
“Historically, the city has to own up to the fact that this was a deliberate attempt to get rid of a Black community because there were many places that the school could have been built,” according to Anthony Santoro, Christopher Newport’s president from 1987 to 1996.
Today, according to the outlet, only five Black households remain in the Shoe Lane area, including James and Barbara Johnson and Katie Luck. A dorm, student center, sorority and fraternity houses, and a residence hall occupy the land. For street access, residents have to navigate through a university parking lot.
“Universities should take it upon themselves to revisit and address these inequities and injustice that occurred at monumental levels,” said McQuinn, a Democrat who represents part of the city of Richmond and adjoining counties.
“Many universities have profited for years based on the injustice that prevented Black families from progressing financially.”
OTHER EFFORTS TO MAKE AMENDS, reported by ProPublica:
- Old Dominion University: A part of Lamberts Point neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia Point, was “leveled in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was a predominantly Black neighborhood, to make room for what is now Old Dominion University’s main campus.” From community outreach to changes to admissions policies, enrollment for students of color has increased by 33%, and hundreds of thousands of scholarships have been awarded since 1999. Free children’s summer camps and seasonal employment opportunities have been made available.
- The University of Virginia: Charlottesville’s communities of color faced the threats of displacement and erasure from the moment UVA began to expand. Vinegar Hill, Gospel Hill, and The Sequel were former downtown Black business and residential districts destroyed by the city as part of urban renewal projects. In response, the University has appointed two executive commissions within the last decade to study its historical support for racist policies. By 2030, UVA’s president looks forward to “building up to 1,500 affordable homes and apartments by 2030 for Charlottesville residents on property owned by the university or its affiliates.”
Though some colleges are making efforts to right wrongs, McQuinn wants the movement to continue.