Solitude, the oldest building on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, has several painful chapters in its past, including the enslavement by the Preston family of workers on the site beginning in the early 19th century. This past summer, descendants of some of those workers visited, for the first time, the land and structures their ancestors had helped build and cultivate. Among those structures was a restored outbuilding.  

The previous spring, Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors had memorialized the tiny three-room building with a unanimous motion to name it the Fraction Family House at Solitude, in honor of the Fraction, McNorton, and Saunders families who had lived there over the decades. That dedication ended the invisibility of enslaved persons in the foundation of the university, says Ellington Graves, assistant provost for diversity and inclusion at Virginia Tech and director of the Africana Studies program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

“This increases the likelihood that we don’t simply celebrate the Prestons without acknowledging their culpability in slaveholding,” Graves says. “These shifts in perspective highlight the salience of race in discussions about the foundation of the university and its traditions, contrary to the tendency to treat racial justice as a recent and tangential issue.”

The official acknowledgment came several years after Kerri Moseley-Hobbs, author of More than a Fraction, contacted the university to learn more about her ancestor, Thomas Fraction, who had been enslaved on the plantation.

The official naming of the Fraction Family House solidified her ancestors’ return to the area where they once worked and longed to stay, but from which they were cast away, she says.

“It feels like the naming was a spiritual homecoming for all of them who actually wanted to build their homes there,” Moseley-Hobbs says. “It’s like vindication. You were right, you have a right to be there, and now you get to go home.”

Written by Travis Williams