In Honoring Enslaved Laborers, Colleges Seek to Blunt the Force of Their Pro-Slavery Icons

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tags: University of Virginia, Slaver



The University of Virginia was founded, conceived, and designed by Thomas Jefferson. But he didn’t build it.

Virginia’s Board of Visitors unanimously approved plans this month for a memorial recognizing the enslaved people who built a university their children and grandchildren would not be allowed to attend.

Marcus Martin, vice president of the university and chief officer for diversity, helped choose a location for what some on campus are calling the Freedom Ring. They wanted it to be hard to miss: a palatial spot that students and visitors will pass as they attend football games, tour the campus, or celebrate graduations.

They settled on a grassy triangle right behind the university’s iconic rotunda.

This spot, at the head of Jefferson’s "academical village," places the memorial in the midst of a university designed by a slave owner — purposeful representation of slavery’s role on the campus.

The memorial is the University of Virginia’s answer to the question many other colleges face: How should an academic institution reconcile its physical ties to slavery or the Confederacy with the desire to become a welcoming campus?

Administrators at some campuses have chosen to remove controversial monuments outright. The University of Virginia decided to endorse adding context to the campus’s symbolic celebration — through the addition of the new monument.





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