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Educated in Tyranny

Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s University
Edited by Maurie D. McInnis and Louis P. Nelson

BUY Cloth · 280 pp. · 7 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942865 · $29.95 · Aug 2019
BUY Ebook · 280 pp. · ISBN 9780813942872 · $29.95 · Aug 2019

From the University of Virginia’s very inception, slavery was deeply woven into its fabric. Enslaved people first helped to construct and then later lived in the Academical Village; they raised and prepared food, washed clothes, cleaned privies, and chopped wood. They maintained the buildings, cleaned classrooms, and served as personal servants to faculty and students. At any given time, there were typically more than one hundred enslaved people residing alongside the students, faculty, and their families. The central paradox at the heart of UVA is also that of the nation: What does it mean to have a public university established to preserve democratic rights that is likewise founded and maintained on the stolen labor of others?

In Educated in Tyranny, Maurie McInnis, Louis Nelson, and a group of contributing authors tell the largely unknown story of slavery at the University of Virginia. While UVA has long been celebrated as fulfilling Jefferson’s desire to educate citizens to lead and govern, McInnis and Nelson document the burgeoning political rift over slavery as Jefferson tried to protect southern men from anti-slavery ideas in northern institutions. In uncovering this history, Educated in Tyranny changes how we see the university during its first fifty years and understand its history hereafter.


"For [an] expansive view, one turns to Educated in Tyranny.... The African Americans in [the book], which include free people of color as well as the enslaved, deal with their degrading circumstances with ingenuity, determination and strength of character.... Slavery is now generally recognized as America's 'original sin,’ and [this book makes a] significant contribution to our understanding of how it permeated all aspects of society, especially in the South.

Wall Street Journal

A model of engaged and compassionate scholarship, drawing upon prodigious research and ingenious methods, Educated in Tyranny is essential to understanding the University of Virginia. This is a book written by people who care deeply about the University, who are devoted to telling its story honestly and fully.

Edward L. Ayers, University of Richmond, author of The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America

Educated in Tyranny is fascinating, well-written, and well-argued. The book is a very important landmark in the ongoing work on the history of slavery at universities. It also demonstrates the power of collaborative projects in uncovering such histories. McInnis and Nelson offer a powerful reflection of the process that the University of Virginia has undertaken, and a powerful record of the ways in which the institution has chosen to honor and claim this difficult history.

Leslie M. Harris, Northwestern University, co-editor of Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies

Little, if any, previous scholarship has explored the horrific abuse endured by enslaved people working at Southern colleges in the lead-up to the Civil War, according to Maurie D. McInnis, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s now coming to light... [ Educated in Tyranny draws] on years of painstaking scrutiny of archival records, which U-Va. made available as part of its ongoing attempt to grapple with its slaveholding past.

Washington Post

[A] complete appreciation of the University of Virginia entails learning hard truths. This... collection examines that truth, of the enslaved people who constructed the buildings and served the young men who were studying the precepts of liberty. Essays look at slave labor, violence, free blacks and the university as a bastion of pro-slavery thought. It includes eye-opening realities such as medical students robbing the graves of slaves. The book's tragic truths are important in understanding this Virginia institution.

Boomer Magazine

Educated in Tyranny changes our way of seeing. Where before we looked upon the Lawn and saw the beauty of the architecture's classical orders, now we see the disorder of the oppressed and their oppressors.... What stands out is the array of disciplines and talents brought to bear that recreate history from discarded shards and restore humanity to people the record rarely refers to by name.

Virginia Magazine

About the Author(s): 

Maurie D. McInnis is Executive Vice President and Provost at The University of Texas at Austin and the author of Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade.

Louis P. Nelson, Vice Provost for Academic Outreach and Professor of Architectural History at the University of Virginia, is coeditor of Charlottesville 2017: The Legacy of Race and Inequity (Virginia).

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