The Descendants Workshop | 2021 Pilot

In summer 2021, the VAACR Task Force partnered with acclaimed preservation architect and Saving Slave Houses founder Jobie Hill to pilot the Virginia Black Public History Institute. Entitled The Descendants Workshop, this first of its kind, hybrid virtual/in-person workshop series brought together a multigenerational group of slavery descendants from five Virginia historical sites, along with student research assistants from Norfolk State University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia State University, and leading innovators in Black Public History. For 12 weeks, participants engaged in collaborative place- and project-based learning and co-research.

The Virginia Black Public History Institute ultimately seeks to promote equitable preservation and co-stewardship of Black ancestral sites statewide by equipping descendant communities with cutting-edge scholarship, tools and resources, and a national support network. With the success of the 2021 pilot, the VAACR Task Force is excited to host future institutes as funding allows. Stay tuned for more information.

Photos credit: Franklin Wassmer

The 2021 institute was made possible by a gift from an Anonymous Donor and a grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional sponsors include TowneBank, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the NEH Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) initiative, and the UVA John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History.

Supporting partners include History Before Us; the National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) and NMAAHC Robert Frederick Smith Explore Your Family History Center; the NSU Harrison B. Wilson Archives, NSU Robert C. Nusbaum Honors College, and NSU Department of History; the UVA Institute for Public History, UVA Scholars’ Lab, and UVA Library; the VSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences and VSU Department of Political Science & Public Administration; and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of our funders and partners.


  • Camilia Bell, Norfolk State University
  • Tyler Busch, University of Virginia
  • Cary Ferguson, Financial Operations Specialist, Virginia Humanities
  • Kameron Gray, Virginia State University
  • Karice Luck-Brimmer, Community Initiatives Program Associate, Virginia Humanities
  • Jemillatu Mansaray, Virginia State University & American University
  • Justin G. Reid, Director of Community Initiatives, Virginia Humanities
  • Elise Wilcox, University of Virginia
  • Niya Bates, Public Historian & Historic Preservationist
  • Jean Cooper, Metadata Librarian & Genealogical Resources Specialist, UVA Library
  • Chris Gist, GIS Specialist, UVA Library Scholars’ Lab
  • Will Rourk, 3D Data & Content Specialist, UVA Library Scholars’ Lab
  • Jolene Smith, Director of Survey & Information Management, Virginia Department of Historic Resources
  • Katrina Spencer, Librarian for African American & African Studies, UVA Library