UVA’s New Memorial to Enslaved Laborers Confronts the School’s History

Between 1817 and 1865, roughly 4,000 enslaved individuals dealt with the campus at the Thomas Jefferson– established University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. Both owned and leased by the university, these required workers was accountable for the creation and upkeep of the schools admired premises, consisting of the UNESCO Heritage– safeguarded Rotunda that was created by Jefferson, an architect, the 3rd United States president, and a servant owner. Catalyzed in 2010 by a group of students who assembled themselves to raise awareness about the history of slavery at UVA, the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers honors the neighborhood of African Americans who constructed and kept the lives of the student, faculty, and staff at the really campus where it is sited. Created by a team of partners that consists of architecture company Höweler + Yoon, designer and historian Dr. Mabel O. Wilson, Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, neighborhood facilitator Dr. Frank Dukes, and artist Eto Otitigbe, the circular memorial is intentionally incomplete in its inscriptions, representing the work still to be done to combat anti-Black racism.Aerial view of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers and UVA Grounds.
Image: Alan Karchmer/ Courtesy: Höweler + Yoon Architecture.”This memorial has the responsibility to acknowledge history, to honor the lives of the oppressed, and bring them the dignity and humankind that was taken away from them by the dehumanizing act of slavery, however also to be an area that acknowledges that the work of attending to the concerns of race in America is not ended up,” Meejin Yoon, cofounding principal of Höweler + Yoon and dean of architecture at Cornell University, tells ADVERTISEMENT. 2 years after the aforementioned trainees organized a competitors for a memorial for the laborers shackled at their college, UVA formed the Presidents Commission on Slavery and the University (PCSU) to investigate its history of slavery and explore ways to recognize the contributions of enslaved individuals to the institution. In 2016 the school commissioned the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, eventually sited on the “Triangle of Grass,” a piece of the UNESCO World Heritage– maintained premises simply east of the Rotunda. Here, the landscape– including UVAs renowned serpentine walls– was initially developed to conceal views of enslaved employees on campus.The memorial is created of regional granite, hewn in several ways for a range of textural impacts. The 80-foot-diameter memorial features a main gathering space, a water table with a timeline honoring the enslaved individuals at UVA (start in 1619 with the first arrival of enslaved Africans to Virginia), a memory wall of their names and marks, and a portrait by Otitigbe of Isabella Gibbons, a formerly enslaved individual who was later on an instructor in Charlottesville. Each design element is bathed in layers of meaning: Water referrals African libation rituals, baptism, the Middle Passage, and river paths to liberation; the textured granite represents both the physical suffering and sustaining spirit of enslaved individuals; its ring shape is a reference to the African freedom “ring shout” dance and indicated to stimulate a sheltering welcome.