UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 07 Winter 17 Library

Designing the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers

Learn more!!

See more about the Memorial below...

As the University of Virginia begins its two-year celebration leading up to its Bicentennial, a new addition to the landscape on Grounds will serve as an important reminder of people whose contributions to the literal foundations of UVA have been until now largely forgotten. Last June, the Board of Visitors Building and Grounds Committee approved the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, a circular wall made of the same Culpeper-based granite that was used in the construction of the Rotunda. The memorial’s inside wall will feature the 953 names of the currently known laborers. Historians’ estimates place the slave labor workforce somewhere near 5,000 people in all, and names will be added as they are learned. Located in an open green area east of Brooks Hall and just across from the Corner, the memorial will offer a place for members of the UVA and local community to gather to reflect on this important legacy. The approved design was an important step in what has been a years-long effort by the University to understand this troubling part of its history and to become a leader in what has become an important trend of exploring the complex legacy of slavery as it relates to institutions of higher learning. The design grew out of an intensive and inclusive process that sought input from the university and local communities. The design team included the Boston architecture firm Höweler+Yoon in addition to Frank Dukes (College ‘75), co-founder of University & Community Action for Racial Equality (UCARE) and past director of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation in the UVA School of Architecture; Mabel O. Wilson (Architecture ‘85), an architectural historian at Columbia University and a noted author who recently published Begin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Gregg Bleam, a landscape architect with 30 years of UVA experience. Dukes said the project is the result of some eight years of discussions with key stakeholders, initiated by students, around understanding the University’s racial history and its impact on the community at large. “It was very important to all of us on the design team that we listen to all of the key stakeholders in order to come up with something that represented their vision for this project. It felt very appropriate that our final design looked nothing like the original ideas our team had come up with.”

The Memorial encourages multiple visitor experiences. As people walk along the memorial’s path the interior granite wall rises to a height of eight feet. This wall will bear the inscriptions of the known and unknown names of the estimated 5,000 persons who worked on grounds, current research has uncovered at least 1,000 mostly first names of enslaved persons. Running parallel to the wall of names, a smaller ring of granite incorporates a bench for individuals to rest and reflect. The smaller ring also hosts a water-table with a timeline of the history of slavery at UVA etched into the stone. For peoples of African descent, water was used for libations in religious ceremonies and waterways served as routes to freedom for the enslaved. At the Memorial’s center, a circle of grass creates a welcoming gathering space for commemorative ceremonies, for use as an outdoor classroom or as a larger community forum for performances that mine the rich African American history of song and voice. The Memorial will be a central element of an ongoing educational and commemorative effort to honor the lives of enslaved men, women and children who lived and labored at the University.
(Photo: Höweler+Yoon)
Read the next story

Introducing Federico Cuatlacuatl