Church Named After Thomas Jefferson Hosts Forum on Race Relations

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September 21, 2008

A church named after Thomas Jefferson held a forum Sunday about the nature of race relations in Charlottesville and at UVA.

Speakers discussed the need for UVA to come to terms with its legacy of slavery--as it was a university built by slaves, and founded by a slaveowner.

During the forum, concerned citizens came together for a conversation about race. People were honest about their feelings, and many said they learned something new just through dialogue.

"You have a lot of folks who grew up here who just feel like this is the best I ever had it, so I'm not going to rock the boat to be able to change anything," said Joy Johnson, who attended the forum on racial reconciliation.

Some residents of Charlottesville say the city still feels segregated. At Sunday's forum, they voiced their concerns.

"We are a tale of two cities, and we need these types of dialogues and that type of outreach," said Pastor Lehman Bates of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and a speaker at the forum.

Dr. Franklin Dukes works at an institute at UVA that is studying ways to reconcile the University's history of slavery. At the same time, they're trying not to offend alumni, and the legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

"There are a lot of people that would like to be able to walk around the University, and be able to say that this place is just and fair and we can overcome the problems of our past--but we're not there yet," said Dr. Franklin Dukes, a member of an Institute at UVA that is studying racial reconciliation between the university and the community.

Dr. Dukes says even today, only 4% of the University's faculty are African-American, while over 50% of the service staff are African-American. But Pastor Bates says he wants accountability from the University and the City, not reconciliation, which he feels is a misleading term.

"There has to be an accountability and a responsibility for those who have been privileged to recognize that it came at a cost and at an expense to others," said Pastor Bates.

City Councilor Holly Edwards attended the forum, and says she benefited from the dialogue.

"What I learned from this is the importance to have a community conversation about race. When there was discussion about race in the beginning, the 'elephant in the room' analogy fits well with this entire city."

These community dialogues give people a voice, but those at the forum say that won't translate into action unless people see there's a problem to begin with, and get involved in the racial reconciliation project.

The forum is part of the Faith in Action Speaker Series at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church.

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