July 13, 2020

UMW Community Works with City on Freedom Rides Historical Marker

Last fall, UMW students and city residents retraced the route of the Freedom Rides, the historic protest to desegregate interstate travel, organized by James Farmer. Members of the UMW community are working with the City to establish a historic marker on the site of the old bus station in Fredericksburg, the Freedom Riders' first stop on their 1961 trip. Photo by Lynda Allen.

Last fall, UMW students and city residents retraced the route of the Freedom Rides, the historic protest to desegregate interstate travel, organized by James Farmer. Members of the UMW community are working with the City to establish a historic marker on the site of the old bus station in Fredericksburg, the Freedom Riders’ first stop on their 1961 trip. Photo by Lynda Allen.

James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams, Assistant Professor of History Erin Devlin and Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation Christine Henry were interviewed in The Free Lance-Star about their efforts to work with the City of Fredericksburg to establish a Virginia state historical marker at the site of the old bus station where the Freedom Riders stopped first in their quest to desegregate interstate transportation in 1961. The station formerly stood on the corner of Princess Anne and Wolfe streets, near where the fire station is now.

Some of the riders were arrested in North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi. In Anniston, Ala., a mob of Ku Klux Klan members slashed the bus’s tires as it attempted to leave the terminal, and later threw a firebomb at it.

UMW students and staff and community members visited the field where the bombing occurred last fall, as part of a trip recreating the journey of the Freedom Riders.

“To our surprise, there was no marker out there. No historical marker saying that right here, the original 13 Freedom Riders were fire-bombed,” said Chris Williams, assistant director of UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center, which organized the trip. “I was enraged and so were the students.”

Back home in Fredericksburg, Williams was still thinking about ways the story of the Freedom Riders and James Farmer could be told better—and that led to the idea of placing a highway marker at the site of the old bus station.

Williams, Devlin and Henry, in partnership with the City of Fredericksburg, have started the process of applying for the marker from the state Department of Historical Resources. Read more.

Memorializing George Floyd: UMW Board Passes Resolution, President Seeds Scholarship

In its June 10 meeting, the Board of Visitors of the University of Mary Washington unanimously passed a resolution declaring solidarity with the family of George Floyd and the scores of protesters who are making their voices heard. “We stand with the thousands in our country and around the world, including members of the Mary Washington community, who have engaged in peaceful protests to affirm that Black Lives Matter, and to call for an end to the social injustice and systemic racism that permeate the fabric of our country,” the resolution stated.

UMW’s Board of Visitors passed a resolution declaring solidarity with the family of George Floyd and those engaged in peaceful protests to affirm that Black Lives Matter.

UMW’s Board of Visitors passed a resolution declaring solidarity with the family of George Floyd and those engaged in peaceful protests to affirm that Black Lives Matter.

In addition to the Board action, President Troy D. Paino announced that he and his wife Kelly Paino will seed a new scholarship in the memory of George Floyd. The scholarship will promote the development of leadership skills for students committed to addressing societal issues disproportionately affecting black and underrepresented communities. Their initial gift of $5,000 will serve as a challenge to members of the University community to financially assist Mary Washington students who are emerging leaders dedicated to driving action around social issues. The Painos’ challenge was quickly matched by Board member Allida Black and her wife Judy Beck, who will issue their own $5,000 challenge for the fund. The scholarships goal is $100,000.

The resolution was the first priority on the agenda during the Board’s regular meeting. Members also recommitted themselves to the University’s Statement of Values and adherence to policies and practices that promote equity, fairness, access and an inclusive environment of mutual respect for all members of the Mary Washington community. Further, they stated their dedication to “rooting out any practice within our community that stems from implicit bias, or systemic racism.”

The resolution, submitted by Board member Rhonda VanLowe, comes on the heels of a number of steps the University has taken over the last several years to ensure that UMW is fully welcoming and inclusive. Following the adoption in 2017 of the strategic vision drafted by President Paino, UMW organically developed a community values statement known as ASPIRE. The University established the new role of Vice President for Equity and Access and focused on hiring more diverse employees, as well as created additional campus-wide opportunities for dialogue around, awareness of, and training about racism, implicit bias and microaggressions.

The James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC) continues to serve as a resource for programming and center of support for all students. Additionally, the JFMC offers opportunities for experiential learning such as a social justice leadership summit and the fall 2018 and 2019 social justice trips that followed the path of the original Freedom Rides. In 2020, the University launched a year-long celebration marking the 100th anniversary of James Farmer’s birth and helping preserve the legacy of the civil rights icon and former Mary Washington professor.

Eagles Fly High During Virtual Awards Ceremony

University of Mary Washington senior Nehemia Abel received the Grace Mann Launch Award during the annual Eagle Awards ceremony, presented virtually Friday evening. This event honors student leaders and outstanding campus organizations. New this year was the James Farmer Defining A Legacy Award. As one of the emcees for the video awards ceremony, Brianna “Breezy” […]

UMW NAACP Chapter Set to ‘Make Waves’

UMW President Troy Paino (middle, suit and tie) poses with members of UMW’s new chapter of the NAACP. The chapter was chartered last May.

UMW President Troy Paino (middle, suit and tie) poses with members of UMW’s new chapter of the NAACP. The chapter was chartered last May.

Most meetings make their way onto the calendar, but some materialize out of thin air. Brianna Reaves might stop by the James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC) to run something by advisor Chris Williams. Next thing you know, Bilqiis Sheikh-Issa shows up, followed by Maya Jenkins and Dana Norwood.

Then it’s on.

“We didn’t come in to talk about business, yet somehow all of us are here,” Reaves, a sophomore who serves as president of UMW’s new NAACP college chapter, said of its executive board.

The board’s a sisterhood of sorts, a collection of young women, plus assistant secretary Cameron Washington and assistant treasurer Lewis Geter, who are ready to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to get this fledgling group off the ground. They feed off each other’s energy – meeting for hours and marking up whiteboards like nobody’s business. Focused on the NAACP’s civil rights mission, they’re set to make change, no matter how small.

“You can’t start a wave without a ripple,” Sheikh-Issa, a first-year student who serves as vice president, said of the chapter, chartered last May. Read more.

Retired NBA Player Scores with Black History Keynote

Retired NBA player, activist and motivational speaker Etan Thomas delivered the Black History Month keynote last Wednesday at UMW. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Retired NBA player, activist and motivational speaker Etan Thomas delivered the Black History Month keynote last Wednesday at UMW. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

It was a game-changing moment for Etan Thomas. Pulled over by the police, he sat silently on the road as an officer fixated on him. The policeman’s fingertips hovered over his holster, ready to grab his gun, while his partners tried to pinpoint why the black teen looked so familiar.

It must be from a mugshot, they said. When they demanded he pop his trunk, revealing high school basketball gear inside, they finally recognized the star athlete whose achievements were often splashed across the local newspaper.

The former Washington Wizard shared that story during his Black History Month keynote Wednesday at the University of Mary Washington. Packed into the UC’s Chandler Ballroom, students, UMW athletes and coaches, faculty, staff, university administrators, President Troy Paino and wife Kelly, and community members listened raptly as Thomas discussed systemic racism, police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline, stop-and-frisk and more. Thomas’ appearance came as the University celebrates Farmer Legacy 2020, honoring Dr. James L. Farmer Jr., the civil rights icon and late Mary Washington professor, who would have been 100 this year.

Thomas’ activism was borne out of that teenage incident, he said, buoyed by his mother’s passion for social justice, and a speech teacher who encouraged him to channel his emotions into an oratory, which he delivered at regional and national competitions, garnering media attention.

“I realized I could use this basketball thing to speak for people who can’t speak for themselves,” said Thomas, whose advocacy work earned him prestigious awards from the National Basketball Players Association and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation. Read more.

Retired NBA Player Scores with Black History Keynote

It was a game-changing moment for Etan Thomas. Pulled over by the police, he sat silently on the road as an officer fixated on him. The policeman’s fingertips hovered over his holster, ready to grab his gun, while his partners tried to pinpoint why the black teen looked so familiar. It must be from a […]

Retired NBA Player Scores with Black History Keynote

It was a game-changing moment for Etan Thomas. Pulled over by the police, he sat silently on the road as an officer fixated on him. The policeman’s fingertips hovered over his holster, ready to grab his gun, while his partners tried to pinpoint why the black teen looked so familiar. It must be from a […]

Retired NBA Player Scores with Black History Keynote

It was a game-changing moment for Etan Thomas. Pulled over by the police, he sat silently on the road as an officer fixated on him. The policeman’s fingertips hovered over his holster, ready to grab his gun, while his partners tried to pinpoint why the black teen looked so familiar. It must be from a […]

Farmer Legacy 2020 Co-Chairs Johnson & Landphair Speak with WVTF Radio IQ

A wreath on the James Farmer bust on UMW’s Campus Walk recognizes Farmer’s 100th birthday and UMW’s Farmer Legacy 2020 celebration. Photo by Tom Rothenberg.

A wreath on the James Farmer bust on UMW’s Campus Walk recognizes Farmer’s 100th birthday and UMW’s Farmer Legacy 2020 celebration. Photo by Tom Rothenberg.

Farmer Legacy 2020 co-chairs Sabrina Johnson, Vice President for Equity and Access and Chief Diversity Officer, and Juliette Landphair, Vice President for Student Affairs, were recently interviewed on WVTF Radio IQ, an NPR affiliate, about civil rights icon and late Mary Washington professor Dr. James L. Farmer Jr. and UMW’s yearlong celebration of his life and legacy that launched in January, on the day after the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Johnson spoke of the impact Farmer had as a professor. “He touched the lives of so many students,” she says.  “It was the most popular class on campus.  It brought in historic numbers.”

Landphair spoke of Farmer’s concern that those who led the civil rights movement would someday be forgotten. “There’s a danger sometimes or a risk when you just reflect and celebrate as if the story is over. We have to hold on and protect and not backslide when it comes to the progress that’s been made.” Read more.

Chavis to Deliver Keynote Address for UMW’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

In 1961, Benjamin Chavis Jr., tired of reading tattered books, boldly marched into the whites-only library in Oxford, North Carolina. The young teen, already a NAACP member, was promptly asked to leave; instead, he stood his ground. “He asked why,” a friend recalled to The New York Times. “A lot of us when we were […]