Memorial to Enslaved Laborers

In fall 2016, the design team of Howeler + Yoon was selected and hired as the University of Virginia slavery memorial design consultant. They worked with the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University (PCSU) to get community feedback about the proposed memorial (what might it look like? Where might it sit on Grounds? and so on…) from the wider community–students, faculty, staff, and our neighbors in Charlottesville and Albemarle county (and likely also other surrounding counties where many with UVA connections live today).

The resulting design, we think, beautifully captures the tenor of those community conversations, honors the lives, labor, and resistance of the 4-5,000 enslaved people who lived and worked at UVA at some point between 1817 and 1865. The memorial includes 4,000 memory marks in their honor. As J. Meejin Yoon of the design team says, “The memorial invites exploration. You can reach out and touch every mark.”

In 2019, the UVA Board of Visitors had already approved the design, we moved ahead with fundraising, and construction was well on its way to completion by the end of the year. The memorial was completed in spring 2020 and a public dedication was planned for April 2021, but the pandemic meant postponing the dedication for a year and moving it to a largely virtual ceremony (see link below to watch the dedication) in April 2021.

Since the University of Virginia’s founding, the belief that inquiry and knowledge are essential to a thriving democracy has stood at its core. This focus has continually led us to seek new challenges, break through barriers, and pursue uncharted paths. Today, we are leading the nation in deepening our understanding of the role of enslaved laborers in building our country and its institutions—including this University.

The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia began with a student-led effort in 2010 and is a shining example of student self-governance. The memorial will acknowledge and honor the 4,000 or more individuals who built and maintained the University. In addition to clearing land, digging foundations, fetching water, chopping and stacking wood, cleaning, and completing daily chores for students and professors, they engaged in highly skilled labor—including cooking, molding and firing brick, complex carpentry work, roofing, transporting and carving quarried stone, blacksmithing, and making clothing, All these men, women, and children lived with dignity, resisted oppression, and aspired for freedom.

For more than four decades, the entire University was a site of enslavement. Now, we’re confronting our past, uncovering new knowledge, and using that knowledge to teach, heal, and shape the future.

View the April 2021 Memorial Dedication.

Read more about UVA’s powerful Memorial to Enslaved Laborers:

Turning Grief for a Hidden Past into a Healing Space (NYT)

UVA’s New Memorial to Enslaved Laborers Confronts the School’s History (Architectural Digest)

A powerful new memorial to U-Va.’s enslaved workers reclaims lost lives and forgotten narratives (WaPo)

Enslaved people built the University of Virginia. Now there’s a monument honoring them (WaPo)

Somber Reflections: Memorial to Enslaved Laborers Fosters ‘Hope and Healing’

UVA’s to Enslaved Laborers Is Exactly the Public Art We Need Right Now (FastCompany)

Virginia Memorial Highlights Historic Ties Between University, Slavery

Want to learn more? Visit Memorial to Enslaved Laborers