If you walk over to Boatwright Library and dig through the papers of Rep. Watkins M. Abbitt, R’29, deposited there, you can read a 1959 letter to Sen. Harry F. Byrd that Abbitt wrote when he represented Virginia’s 4th District from 1948 to 1973. In it, he pledges his support for federal tax legislation designed to preserve segregation in schools across Virginia.

Two decades into the 21st century, the Richmond region continues to struggle with this deeply rooted legacy of school segregation and with housing segregation, according to a report released in July by scholars at UR and Virginia Commonwealth University called "Can We Live Together?".

“When one compares 19th-century maps of Richmond with 21st-century maps, black and white populations are much more separated today than before,” says the report. Its authors include three Richmond faculty and staff: John Moeser, senior fellow in the Center for Civic Engagement; Taylor Holden, GIS technician in the spatial analysis lab; and Tom Shields, chair of graduate education. The report notes a “deepening double segregation by race and poverty in schools.”

“Richmond area students experience starkly different exposure to school poverty depending on their racial or income group,” the report says. “The typical black student, for instance, heads to a school in which roughly two out of three of their peers are low-income, compared to about one in four for the typical white, Asian, or non-poor student.”

Despite the challenges, the report offers hope. “Public policy created many of these problems,” it says, “but public policy can address these problems.”

What’s needed, the report concludes, is a comprehensive regional strategy that includes the city and surrounding counties. And, of course, political will.