The University of Virginia (UVA) announced plans to name a new dorm, opening this fall, after William and Isabella Gibbons, a former slave couple that had been prominent figures in emancipation efforts. The President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, founded by UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan, recommended the name as part of a larger effort to acknowledge the history of slavery and oppression at the university.
According to a UVA brochure, titled Slavery at the University of Virginia, slavery played an integral role in the development of the institution. It states that slaves were leased to the university to help with the construction process and later served students and faculty when the school opened. The Gibbonses themselves had once been owned by two UVA professors.
“This is part of a broad, ongoing effort to recognize the role of slavery in the university’s history and to educate the members of our community about the role of enslaved persons at UVA as we approach our bicentennial,” Sullivan told The Daily Progress.
Following emancipation, the Gibbonses went on to be leading figures in the community. Isabella became a teacher at Freedman’s Primary School — now the Jefferson School — in Virginia, while William went on to become a well-known minister; he first served as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va., and later the Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
The Gibbons House, as it is officially named, was dedicated on June 12 and will house 200 freshmen beginning this fall. It will also house a small gallery of photos, panels, and plaques to commemorate the couple’s lives and their contributions to the community.
“Their lives are examples of the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity,” said George Keith Martin, the first African-American rector of the Board of Visitors at UVA, at the building’s dedication ceremony.
*This story was rewritten from an article published online by USA Today on June 23, 2015.