The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers
Understand the Past. Shape the Future.
Since the University of Virginia’s founding, the belief that inquiry and knowledge are essential to a thriving democracy has stood at its core. Today, we are leading the nation in deepening our understanding of the role of enslaved laborers in building our country and its institutions—including this University.
The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia began with a student-led effort in 2010 and is a shining example of student self-governance. The memorial will acknowledge and honor the estimated 5,000 individuals who built and maintained the University—clearing land, molding and firing bricks, transporting quarried stone, fetching water, stacking wood, scrubbing fireplaces and windows, and completing daily chores for UVA students and professors.
For more than four decades, the entire University was a site of enslavement. Now, we’re confronting our past, uncovering new knowledge, and using that knowledge to teach, heal, and shape the future.
For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.”
Telling the Full Story
Located within sight of the Rotunda and the UVA Corner on the footprint of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers will be a vital part of the daily fabric of University life.
The memorial’s design is both intentional and symbolic. Its diameter echoes that of the Rotunda, and its concentric rings—made of the same granite as the Rotunda’s upper terrace and including a flowing shelf of water—represent the oppression of slavery, slavery’s broken shackles, and its river paths to freedom. The outer ring will be engraved with the subtle images of faces from period photographs, while the innermost ring will bear 973 known names of the enslaved and will include placeholders for the estimated 4,000 names that have yet to be found.
Students, faculty, community members, and visitors from around the world will all benefit from opportunities for quiet reflection, teaching, and planned events in this highly visible and public gathering space.
President Teresa A. Sullivan established the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University in 2013, and its charge included consideration of an appropriate memorial. Since then, the memorial design team engaged extensively with Charlottesville and UVA community members on key decisions. In June 2017, the Board of Visitors approved the memorial’s design and location.
With this memorial, I believe the University has a unique opportunity to set the tone for the national conversation on issues related to its complicated history.”
Construction of the memorial is the next bold step in this exploration. Upon completion, subsequent work may include development of a museum space focused on education about UVA’s history of slavery. An endowment may also be created to maintain and update exhibits as new research uncovers knowledge and learning opportunities.
The stage is set. Now it’s up to us. Help shine a light on UVA’s complete story.
Why build this monument now?
Planning for a memorial has been in the works since the establishment of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University in 2013. As we celebrate the University’s bicentennial, the Grounds will finally include a memorial to the enslaved laborers who played a crucial role in making this University a reality. The memorial is the first big step in our plans to embrace the story of the University’s enslaved workers and to tell it across Grounds.
Why this location and design?
The memorial is purposefully located near the Rotunda and the UVA Corner, and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. By weaving the memorial into the daily fabric of University life, the University is creating a new gathering space in a highly visible and public location.
The memorial’s design, the product of extensive engagement with Charlottesville and UVA community members on key decisions, is both intentional and symbolic. Visitors will encounter the complex and challenging lives of enslaved men, women, and children through the memorial’s features and motifs that echo bondage but also bear witness to the perseverance of the human spirit.
What is the plan for construction?
Design refinements to the memorial will continue as the University builds philanthropic support for the project. Since the memorial’s footprint is substantial, and is to be located in a busy area on Grounds, extensive site preparation must occur prior to a start date.
How much will it cost?
The University currently estimates the memorial’s cost to be $6 million. All funds raised for its construction will come from private philanthropy.
Why should I support this project?
By supporting the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia, you will become involved in a unique, important, and timely project in the life of the University. You will be a participant in UVA’s commitment to embracing the full story of its enslaved workers, ensuring that future generations of students and scholars will understand the complete story behind the unique—and sometimes very painful—origins of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.