On Friday, Roanoke College commemorated Juneteenth for the third consecutive year. Members of the campus community came together for lunch and conversation at the Colket Center. The following is President Michael C. Maxey's statement:
Thank you for allowing me to send my remarks to you today as we commemorate Juneteenth. An important part of my work as President has always been to ensure the College is a fair, just and diverse place to learn and to work. We are not near perfect, but this important work will only be accomplished through consistent actions we all take to support each other and call out injustice when we see it. I know President-elect Frank Shushok is supportive of all efforts to ensure Roanoke College embodies a welcoming and inclusive culture.
We know there is work to be done and accountability is needed; that is one of the reasons the role of Vice President of Community, Diversity and Inclusion was added to the leadership team. We are grateful that Teresa Ramey is leading the College’s efforts to create an educational environment that is socially aware and culturally inclusive, one that celebrates diversity, where all students, faculty and staff are respected, valued and have a sense of belonging. Her work began just one year ago and we already feel the growing momentum.
To move forward, action is imperative, and we must also listen to learn. This year in the true spirit of collective listening and learning, the inaugural Virginia Conference on Race took place on our campus. It was an inspiring example of how affirming and helpful it can be to bring students and educators together from myriad backgrounds and institutions to share ideas and experiences about race. I am grateful to the Virginia Conference on Race Founder and Organizer — Dr. Carrie Murawski — who coordinated the event along with support from the Roanoke College Center for the Study of Structures of Race. The presentations were important, informative and inspiring.
This year, the Center for Studying Structures of Race also presented a webinar series focused on the history and future of monuments in society and addressed the country’s history of racism, particularly against Black Americans. It was an honor to hear from Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, director for Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research on Reconstruction. During his talk, Dr. Gates said, “May we find courage even when the tide is rolling against us. With history as our guide, ladies and gentlemen, we will not be turned back.”
Uncovering history is one of the most important elements of the work of the Center for the Study of Structures of Race, led by Dr. Jesse Bucher. Recently, with Dr. Bucher, a team of faculty and students have tracked the genealogy of enslaved people connected to Roanoke College and their contributions to our founding and development.
Their research discovered that Roanoke College’s founder and first president, Dr. David F. Bittle, participated directly in the economy of slavery. They found several documents listing him as the owner of an enslaved person named Ambrose. Documents show Dr. Bittle sent Ambrose from Salem to Richmond to help build Confederate defenses in September of 1863.
Dr. Bittle was found to own an enslaved person named Ambrose. Because of the Center’s research, Now. We. Can. Say. His. Name. AMBROSE.
After 179 years as an institution, we are still learning important pieces of our history. We must recognize those who contributed to the foundation of our College — those who have not before been recognized.
Today, on Juneteenth of 2022, we remember Ambrose. History is a discovery process, and we all welcome the unfolding story of history as things unknown are revealed today for our consideration and action.
It is imperative that we reflect on our past as we work toward future progress.
Thank you for coming together as a community. I encourage all of us to remember those who helped to build our foundation in order for us to pursue freedom and justice today.