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 have been working 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.”

Now, in 2019, the UVA Board of Visitors has already approved the design, we are moving ahead with fundraising, and construction is well on its way to completion by the end of the year. Stay tuned, and please consider donating to this worthy project. Check in on progress at the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers construction camera. A public dedication of the Memorial will take place on April 11, 2020.

To learn more about the memorial design process, please visit this Memorial to Enslaved Laborers website.

See also the Jeffersonian Grounds Initiative’s page on the memorial:

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.

A public dedication of the Memorial will take place on April 11, 2020.