Linda Johnson-Thomas recently learned that her grandfather, a former worker at the Virginia Theological Seminary, was forced to work at the school.
According to CNN, the grandfather, John Samuel Thomas, Jr., was a farm laborer turned head janitor at the school located in Alexandria.
Linda’s grandparents lived in a little white house on the campus with their four children, including Linda’s mother.
“All I knew was that he grew up on the seminary,” said Johnson-Thomas, 65, who lives in Mitchellville, Maryland. “We knew there were slaves in Alexandria — but we didn’t know the specifics.”
The seminary forced Blacks to work there for over a century during and beyond slavery between 1823 and 1951. Hundreds of Blacks were forced to work there for little or no pay as campus farmers, dishwashers, cooks, and other jobs.
During this time, faculty members and students brought their own enslaved people, Ebonee Davis, an associate for programming and historical research at the school, reported.
Two years ago, the school announced that it had set aside $1.7 million to pay reparations to descendants of those enslaved at the school.
In 2021, it made good on those promises and started to hand out annual payments of $2,100 each to direct descendants.
Johnson-Thomas and her two sisters were the first to receive the payouts. As of now, fifteen others have received payments. The seminary is expecting to compensate many more as they work to identify those who qualify.
The seminary had the difficult task of identifying direct descendants by setting up a task force. With the help of genealogists and old documents, some have been successfully located.
The money is handed over to the family generation that is closet to the enslaved workers or Jim Crow-era laborers, which often ends up being the grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
The school cut checks to identified descendants, whom they call “shareholders.” The $1.7 million is expected to increase and continue to fund more future payouts.
“Though no amount of money could ever truly compensate for slavery, the commitment of these financial resources means that the institution’s attitude of repentance is being supported by actions of repentance,” said Rev. Ian S. Markham, dean, and president of the seminary, in a statement.
“It opens up a moment for us to reflect long and hard on what it will take for our society and institutions to redress slavery and its consequences with integrity and credibility.”