Craig Caudill, ’25, and Yamir Chapman, ’25

February 2, 2023
Research fellows with the University of Richmond Race and Racism Project share untold history

In 1844, Ralph Perry paid a “subscription of one dollar for the College,” reported Richmond College president Robert Ryland in a Religious Herald article.

Who was Ralph Perry? And why would he make this donation at time when he was not permitted to attend the University? These questions and many others were the starting point for new research by Craig Caudill and Yamir Chapman, two University of Richmond Race and Racism Project research fellows.

Together, Caudill and Chapman researched the life of Ralph Perry and his connection to our University. 

“Our focus with Race and Racism was really about buildings narratives and reconstructing an identity that had been pushed to the backburner,” Chapman said.

Guided by research coordinator Shelby Driskill, they accessed archives of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and the Library of Virginia, Loudoun County's digitized Black history records, and Census records to uncover clues to Perry’s life.

“Shelby was with us every step of the way,” Caudill said.

The interns discovered that Perry was enslaved by a man named Joseph Clowes, who resided in Loudoun County, Virginia. Clowes died in 1833, and Perry’s manumission was included in his will.

An 1806 Virginia regulation stated that any Black person freed in Virginia would have one year to leave the Commonwealth. Loudoun County summons records include Ralph Perry. Perry’s donation to Richmond College may have been an effort to show his standing in the community and avoid moving away from his home.

On the back of an 1849 summons, there was a note that said Perry had moved to Ohio. The 1850 Federal Census confirmed Ralph Perry’s race, age, gender, and occupation (farmer), and listed Perry as being illiterate.

“All of the information was given through an anti-Black lens, so my scholarly work was trying to remove that lens and tell the story through Ralph Perry,” Caudill said.

Researching Perry’s life demonstrated the need for persistence with historical research.

“I’ve learned that a lot of these narratives are not linear,” Chapman said. “There is something special about being able to put them together.”

As the pieces of the story were falling into place, Caudill and Chapman were also pursing their own research and storytelling opportunities with support from Ernest McGowen, director of the University of Richmond Race and Racism Project and associate professor of political science.

Caudill presented “Revealing Resistance: Ralph Perry” at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference for Undergraduate Scholarship in October at Randolph College.

Chapman produced a podcast, “Ralph Perry: The Unknown and Forgotten.”

Other Race and Racism research fellows pursued different topics.

“All of us have such diverse interests and are coming from such different areas but we’re all working towards the same goal to provide a more inclusive history,” Caudill said. “There are definitely different paths of research you can pursue. You can do health studies work, American studies work, political science . . . all of these different disciplines were ingrained in my research.”

“It never felt like I was doing work,” Chapman said. “It is so different than being in class, and there is always something more to find out.”