Since the University of Virginia’s founding, the belief that inquiry and knowledge are essential to a thriving democracy has stood at its core. This focus has continually led us to seek new challenges, break through barriers, and pursue uncharted paths. 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.