UVA names new dorm for former slave couple

This fall the University of Virginia in Charlottesvile, Virginia will be opening a new dorm named after a former slave couple.  Gibbons House is named after Isabella and William Gibbons.


A dorm opening at the University of Virginia this fall will be named for Isabella and William Gibbons, a former slave couple who lived at the university in the 19th century.

While other colleges are refusing to rename buildings named after white supremacists, UVA is actively working to address the university’s role in slavery and oppression. Gibbons House is part of a larger initiative for the school to address its history with slavery as its bicentennial approaches in 2017.

Slavery is unquestionably a part of UVA’s history. Slaves were used to help build the school, founded by Thomas Jefferson, and worked for students and professors on campus after it opened, as local historian Gayle Schulman documented in a 2003 paper.



Slaves helped in the building of UVA which was founded by Thomas Jefferson. Isabella and William Gibbons lived at the university and were owned by two different UVA professors.  After the Civil War William Gibbons became a minister at the First Baptist Church in Charlottesville and later Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.  Isabella became a teacher at a primary school in Charlottesville.

Isabella and William Gibbons were owned by two different UVA professors in the 1850s, Schulman reported. Following emancipation, the couple remained in Charlottesville, where Isabella became a teacher and William became “the first man of color to minister to the Charlottesville congregation now known as the First Baptist Church, West Main Street.”

“Their lives are a testament to enslaved people’s resistance to slavery and racism,” von Daacke said, praising their “refusing to accept the confines of slavery and the labels put on them.”

The Gibbons House will open in the fall and will house 200 students. At the entrance, there are detailed panels abut the Gibbonses and an overview of slavery at UVA. The building was officially dedicated June 12.

You can read more about William and Isabella Gibbons at UVA Today.

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