The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers
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Matching Fund Advances Memorial to Enslaved Laborers
The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia received a significant boost when the University’s Board of Visitors approved an allocation of strategic funds for the project. At its August meeting, the BOV endorsed a plan proposed by President Jim Ryan to allocate $2.5 million from the Strategic Investment Fund to establish a matching fund for private gifts to the memorial construction fund.
The Board approved dedicating up to $2.5 million in strategic fund earnings for one-for-one matches of gifts and gift commitments of any amount for the memorial’s construction through Dec. 31, 2019.
“Honoring the enslaved laborers who built this University is a crucial step in fully recognizing our history as a university,” Ryan said. “I am delighted that we will be matching funds raised for this important memorial.”
A recommendation of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, the memorial’s design and location won approval in June 2017. The memorial is to be situated near the Rotunda on the grassy area between Brooks Hall and the Corner. Construction is anticipated to begin later this year.
“The $2.5 million in matching funds is a significant development in the process of making the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers a reality,” said Dr. Marcus Martin, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity. Martin also served as co-chair of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University.
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 4,000 or more individuals who built and maintained the University. In addition to clearing land, digging foundations, fetching water, chopping and stacking wood, cleaning, and completing daily chores for students and professors, they engaged in highly skilled labor—including cooking, molding and firing brick, complex carpentry work, roofing, transporting and carving quarried stone, blacksmithing, and making clothing, All these men, women, and children lived with dignity, resisted oppression, and aspired for freedom.
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.
Former 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?
Construction began in early 2019. Construction is underway for significant site work by general contractor Team Henry Enterprises on the “triangle of grass” across University Avenue from the Corner, including re-grading, utility work, laying a concrete foundation, improving stormwater management and sidewalks, and, ultimately, the installation of the large-scale stone blocks of the memorial. As a result, some pedestrian walkways will be rerouted during construction.
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.