A Closer Look at the Design and Details of the New Memorial to Enslaved LaborersBreaking News
tags: slavery, University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, memorials, Charlottesville, public history
he design of the new Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia didn’t start with images, plans or drawings.
It started with conversations.
“We didn’t go into it with a sense of what it should be, or even where it should be,” cultural historian and designer Mabel Wilson said. “We just started a series of conversations, hearing from students, from community members, faculty and from communities of descendants who are invested in trying to understand their relationships to these places.
“That’s how we started, just listening.”
Wilson, a UVA School of Architecture alumna and a professor of architecture and African American studies at Columbia University in New York City, was part of the memorial’s design team. The team, hired by UVA and its President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, also included Eric Höweler and Meejin Yoon, of the Boston-based firm Höweler+Yoon Architecture; Charlottesville landscape architect Gregg Bleam, who previously taught at the Architecture School; Frank Dukes, a Distinguished Institute Fellow at UVA’s Institute for Engagement and Negotiation; and Eto Otitigbe, a polymedia artist who creates sculpture and public installations who is also an assistant professor of art at Brooklyn College. They worked diligently with members of the Office of the Architect of the University, led by Architect for the University Alice Raucher and University Landscape Architect Mary Hughes, to shepherd the project to completion. Partnering with UVA Facilities Management, general contractor Team Henry Enterprises oversaw construction, led by superintendent Mike Spence.
The result is a striking circular stone memorial cut into the sloping lawn between the Rotunda and the Corner, within the boundary of the UNESCO World Heritage Site on Grounds.
The rising wall, constructed of local “Virginia Mist” granite, is inscribed with 577 names of enslaved men and women who lived and worked on Grounds, along with 311 phrases indicating someone’s kindship or occupation, such as “grandmother” or “stonecutter.” Often, records used those notations rather than someone’s name. Von Daacke and members of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University led research efforts to discover those names, studying faculty minutes, chairman’s journals, buildings and grounds records, and faculty and student diaries. Ben Ford, of Rivanna Archaeological Services, also contributed research, going through the Proctor’s records.
Researchers estimate that at least 4,000 more names of those enslaved on Grounds remain unknown, represented on the memorial by 4,000 dark gashes in the stone.