Sweet Briar professor shares research, College history at UVa slavery symposium

Lynn Rainville and panel at UVa
Prof. Lynn Rainville (second from left) with Bethany Pace, Annette Anderson and Crystal Rosson at their session on “Roots and Remembrance at Sweet Briar”

Sweet Briar College research professor Lynn Rainville spoke at the University of Virginia this past week during a symposium on slavery. Hosted by President Teresa Sullivan’s Commission on Slavery and the University, the symposium was part of UVa’s bicentennial commemoration.

The four-day event, titled “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory and the Built Landscape,” brought together more than 500 speakers and guests for a series of lectures, panels and breakout sessions, beginning Wednesday, Oct. 18.

As director of Sweet Briar’s Tusculum Institute, Rainville is an expert on the College history, focusing both on its known and lesser-known founders. In recent years, her research into the local African-American community has expanded to include descendants of enslaved communities elsewhere. Her 2014 book “Hidden History” uncovered dozens of African-American cemeteries in Virginia, and she is currently working on “Invisible Founders: How Two Centuries of African American Labor Transformed a Plantation into a College,” to be published next year by Berghahn Press.

In addition to speaking on African-American graveyards, Rainville organized and hosted a panel featuring three descendants from the enslaved community at Sweet Briar titled “Roots & Remembrance at Sweet Briar.” Two of them, Annette Anderson and Bethany Pace, are related to James and Lavinia Fletcher, while the other, Crystal Rosson, is Sterling Jones’s great-granddaughter. The Fletcher descendants have hosted several family reunions at Sweet Briar since 2008.

African-American Cemetery at UVa
The rededicated African-American Cemetery at UVa

Rainville also moderated a panel on graveyards and spoke at the rededication of an African-American burial ground — discovered in 2012 — adjacent to the UVa cemetery.

The conference was co-organized by Joseph McGill’s Slave Dwelling Project. In 2012, Rainville hosted McGill for an overnight stay in the Sweet Briar Slave Cabin, marking the first time he was  invited to a college campus as part of his innovative project. Many symposium attendees joined McGill for a similar experience Wednesday night before the official program got underway, camping out near known sites of slave dwellings on UVa’s campus.

The conference ended with a field trip to Montpelier, Monticello and Highland on Saturday.

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