Research Tells Story of Enslaved People at Campus Before Civil War

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A faculty work group has compiled and published extensive scholarship exploring the role of slavery at The University of Alabama, telling the stories of enslaved people connected to the campus before the Civil War.

This scholarly initiative launches the University’s membership in a consortium of over 100 universities in the United States, Canada, Colombia, Scotland, Ireland and England engaged in educational projects focused on slavery and its legacies within their respective institutions.

The project, “The History of Enslaved People at UA,” evolved from a resolution passed by the Faculty Senate in 2018 requesting the establishment of a commission to investigate the history of race, slavery and civil rights at the University. In response, a task force of faculty, staff and graduate students with interest and expertise in the histories of slavery, race and civil rights convened beginning in 2019.

As part of the task force’s efforts, a group of UA researchers completed a comprehensive assessment making accessible online a wealth of historical information on enslaved individuals who labored on UA’s campus before the Civil War. The newly unveiled website marks the first time the names of all enslaved people able to be identified as affiliated with UA are presented in one place.

“Our goal was to center enslaved people and their lives,” said Dr. Jenny Shaw, associate professor of history, who led the research group. “The website is the result of that systematic, careful work.”

The Consortium for Universities Studying Slavery, led by the University of Virginia, works to surface the history of slavery at affiliated campuses by undertaking a careful examination of their institutional archives and related collections.

Shaw and three graduate students identified as many of the enslaved individuals as possible. They entered those names, and the records associated with them, in a database that served as the foundation for the website. While most of the records relating to each enslaved person are digitally available through the UA Libraries website, this is the first time they have been collected and collated.

A visitor to the site can click on the name of an enslaved person to view every record UA holds that discusses an aspect of that person’s life. Using these records, the research team wrote narratives of four enslaved people – Lydia, Moses, Peter and Binkey.

“It is the first time that these documents are fully accessible – every entry has been transcribed so that visitors can see the originals, but also read a typed transcription for better ease of use,” Shaw said.

Along with Shaw, members of the research group included former graduate students Katharine Buckley in library and information studies, Briana Weaver in history, and Valery West in gender and race studies.

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.


Alex House, UA Strategic Communications,