Uncovering Hidden Figures and Moments of the Virginia Civil Rights Movement

by Rachel Olson, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

I am a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, on the pre-medical track, with a bachelor of arts degree in religious studies. During my time at UVA, I took great interest in understanding the world around me in terms of religion and science. I became a religious studies major because of my love for different religions and cultures, and I am part of a pharmacology research lab through UVA’s School of Medicine because of my love for science. I enjoy volunteering at Charlottesville’s multi-resource day shelter The Haven as well as mentoring incoming Black students at the University. I take great interest in human rights, equality, and giving back to those in need. 

For my summer research project in lived theology, I am creating a digital exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia that will feature key documents, moments, and actors. More specifically, I have been completing preliminary research, such as gathering primary sources, searching archives, and writing articles for the project. Recently, I have completed my first interview with an author who has written a compelling narrative on civil rights and religion in Richmond. The digital exhibit will feature an all-encompassing timeline of events that occurred during the civil rights era in Virginia. It will also feature relevant primary source documents from this time period as well as photos of important figures and locations. We hope to also link to significant resources, which can be of great use to educators and students of all ages. I believe this digital exhibit will provide scholars as well as the general public with reliable sources and facts about civil rights in Virginia. Our hope is that the exhibit will bring new insights and attention to events and activists who may not have received widespread publicity at the time of their pursuits.

I am passionate about deepening my understanding of Virginia’s rich history, and I yearn to approach this sensitive topic with accuracy and care. Although the Civil Rights Movement was a difficult and trying time, it is my aim to showcase the way in which this movement, along with religion, became a catalyst for change in a positive direction. By shedding light on major drivers and events of the movement, I am confident that all of us can learn and grow to be more accepting people, who are capable of valuing each other, despite our differences. 

Learn more about the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia digital exhibit project here.

Learn more about the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology here.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.