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Research on Douglas Southall Freeman

Douglas Southall Freeman (1886–1953), UR graduate and later rector, after whom Freeman Hall is named, was a noted public figure in his day. He was a historian who won two Pulitizer Prizes for his biographies of Robert E. Lee and George Washington, a prolific newspaper editor, radio broadcaster, and advisor of the country’s most powerful leaders. As the report notes, however, his prominent and well-publicized views rested on the foundation of racist, white supremacist beliefs that led him to glorify the Confederacy, promote segregation and disenfranchisement, and support eugenics. 

The historical research team led by Dr. Lauranett Lee was asked to focus on the following: 1.) The ways in which Freeman’s work and his public and private views related to the subjects of race and segregation; 2.) Freeman’s contributions to the University of Richmond in his roles as a writer, editor, rector and trustee; and 3.) his immediate and lasting influence as a public intellectual. The resulting report, “The Virginia Way”: Race, The Lost Cause, & The Social Influence of Douglas Southall Freeman by Suzanne Slye with Shelby Driskill and Dr. Lee with assistance by Meriwether Gilmore, M.A., Ayele d’Almeida (BA, 2020), and Catherine Franceski (BA, 2020) provides historical context for contemporary consideration of Freeman’s public roles and his work and an examination of the ways in which he affected the University of Richmond. It also reveals how John Mitchell, Jr. (1863–1929), a formerly enslaved person who became editor of the African American newspaper the Richmond Planet, and fearless champion of racial justice, challenged Freeman’s racist viewpoints within the pages of the Planet. Mitchell refused to accept a hierarchy based on race.