Construction on Memorial to Enslaved Laborers Begins at the University of Virginia

The University of Virginia recently began construction of its Memorial to Enslaved Laborers on the Charlottesville campus. The new memorial will include a circular stone wall in an open green area east of Brooks Hall and the university’s famous Rotunda. One edge of the “Freedom Ring” will be open, resembling a broken shackle. This opening will allow visitors inside the circular structure. A stone bench be built inside the circle.

Names of slaves who worked at the University of Virginia will be inscribed on the inner wall of the stone structure. So far the university has discovered the names – sometimes only the first names – of nearly 1,000 slaves who worked on campus. The university believes that as many as 5,000 slaves may have labored on university grounds in the 1817-to-1865 period.

Slaves, rented from local property owners, were used to construct many of the earliest campus buildings. Once the university opened, slaves were used for manual labor on campus. Some faculty members owned slaves.

The university is matching private donations of $2.5 million to finance the construction of the memorial. University president Jim Ryan stated that “honoring the enslaved laborers who built this university is a crucial step in fully recognizing our history as a university.”

Louis Nelson, a professor of architectural history at the university, added that “while many institutions are now taking this history seriously, few have made this substantial commitment to memorializing the brutality of slavery and the resilience of the enslaved.”

 

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