As a proud Virginia State University Alum, I used to laugh at the lyrics of Virginia Union’s Alma Mater. “You are God’s gift to humanity?” Get Real! Oh, their basketball program was great. Almost every African-American preacher was educated there. And there were some good brothers from the Gamma Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. But, other than that, VUU was that school on Lombardy Street. State had my major, a campus completely separate from nearby cities, solid academic programs, a fine band and (okay, I wasn’t always the most devout Christian) the finest cheerleaders. As far as we Trojans were concerned, the Panthers were of little.
I had to swallow a little bit of my orange & blue pride as I prepared for ministry at VUU. And not yet earning my Master of Divinity (I did complete my Church Ministry Certificate through their Evans-Smith Leadership Training Program), I still found myself having to sing the Alma Mater with those lyrics. I would go home and quickly repent by singing “Hail State.” But, the history of Virginia Union University give a special meaning to the words.
During the antebellum period, slaves about to be sold to the deep south were held at the Lumpkin’s Jail in Richmond. Virginia had become the leading slave breeding and market state for the large cotton plantations. Families were broken up as human beings who had been in the state for 100 years or more were considered no better than horses or cattle. The jail was a house of some of the greatest tears and sorrows in world history.
After the Civil War, the American Baptist sought to create a school of higher education for freedmen. Lumpkin’s Jail was given to a black woman as an inheritance. In the cells where men were beaten and women were raped, people were studying science, Latin, mathematics, and other subjects. The place of violent horrors became the hallowed halls of learning. Redemption of a dehumanized population, to take a place of evil (it was known as the Devil’s Half-Acre) and turn it into a house of virtue is a blessing that can only come from the Lord. Every college and university has a prideful history. Few have one as compelling as Virginia Union.
“Panther Pride” may not have been too evident as VUU football team was crushed by Va State in a cold, rainy Petersburg homecoming game. But, for the alumni and friends who know the roots of the burgundy and silver, we cannot help but to be glad that God gave us such a special gift.