Virginia Union University celebrates 150 years.
Photo courtesy of Virginia Union University.
When it came time for the leadership of Virginia Union University to choose a theme for the school’s sesquicentennial this year, it didn’t take long for one to emerge. “We were thinking, often times in negro spirituals, in the songs we sing …. we talk about bridges to cross and mountains to climb,” says Dr. Claude Perkins, university president since 2009.
Slaves headed to Richmond, one of the South’s largest slave ports at the time, were transported across the James by bridge to the auction houses of Shockoe Bottom. “That was part of that bridge to enslavement, and we are part of that bridge to enlightenment,” says Perkins. “We instill that light and provide for many students who share our values, and many students who need access and opportunity to a high quality education.”
VUU traces its roots to 1865 when, after the end of the Civil War, Mary Lumpkin, the African-American widow of the proprietor of one of the city’s largest slave auction houses, leased the property to the American Baptist Home Mission Societies to establish a school. Thirty-four years later, the school merged with Richmond Theological Institute and Wayland Seminary to become Virginia Union University. Nine buildings designed by New York architect John Coxhead were constructed on Lombardy Street to house the new university. Today, VUU enrolls 1,750 students on its North Side campus, which has expanded to comprise 26 buildings (including eight of the original “noble nine”).
Sesquicentennial festivities kicked off in September and will continue throughout the school year. Highlights include a rededication April 9 at Lumpkin’s Jail followed by prayer services at Ebenezer Baptist Church on West Leigh Street (where classes were once held) and at VUU’s Coburn Hall. In honor of the milestone, the university will unveil its first monument in May. Designed by Colorado-based sculptor Ed Wright, it will feature a series of bronze panels reaching successively higher, connected by a bridge.
“The programming is designed not just to look back and embellish our history, but to have a forward-looking notion as well,” says Perkins. “We’re looking forward to another 150 years, and we’re looking forward to making sure that we have that as a focus and that we continue to express those values that we embrace.” VUU.edu