The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, recently dedicated a memorial to the people who were enslaved on the institution’s campus over a span of 170 years. The memorial is 20 feet high, 16 feet wide, and 45 feet long. An estimated 800 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members gathered for the dedication of Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved.
Enslaved Black people came to William & Mary through several channels. Some were purchased outright to serve the president and professors, some were given to the college, and still others belonged to members of the faculty, administration, and to students. Several worked on the main campus, while others lived and worked on Nottoway Quarter, the college-owned tobacco plantation.
The memorial resembles a fireplace hearth and is meant to symbolize both a place of community and the center of domestic enslavement. A vessel to hold fire that will burn on special occasions will be installed at the center of the Hearth at a later date. Among the memorial’s red bricks reminiscent of the W&M’s historic buildings are black bricks engraved with the names of people enslaved by the university, with some simply saying “UNKNOWN PERSON” acknowledging individuals mentioned but unnamed in the record.
Chon Glover, chief diversity officer at the college, stated that “although this is a wonderful achievement, it is only one step in our ongoing work of inclusive excellence and reconciliation as we share a richer, fuller, and more inclusive history of W&M. May we remember and honor our ancestors and the legacy they left for us as long as the sun shines and the waters flow.”