The movement to establish a more adequate memorial to the University of Virginia’s enslaved laborers was officially launched in the Fall of 2009. The project idea came from community concerns raised over the infrequent presentation of the history of slavery at the University. Initiated by the Diversity Initiatives Committee of Student Council, the project gained a lot of support from groups and individuals, from both within the university and outside of it. From the very early stages, a close partnership with the University and Community Action for Racial Equity (UCARE) developed. In the first year of the project, a lot of groundwork was laid. Some of these accomplishments include:
- Unanimously passing a Student Council resolution affirming the timeliness and necessity of the project
- Distributing a university-wide survey to gauge community knowledge of the history; the survey returned over 900 responses
- Organizing an educational forum on the intricacies of race relations in the University’s history, with a special focus on slavery
- Organizing focus groups on and off Grounds to get community feedback on the need for a memorial, the form it should take, and its effect on our community
- Forming an advisory committee consisting of expert faculty, staff, and community members
Currently, the project is an equal collaboration among Student Council, UCARE, and the Black Student Alliance.
Why We Need A Memorial for Enslaved Laborers
- Students’ love for the University extends to all those who contributed to the construction of the University. Without the efforts of enslaved laborers, we would not be able to enjoy the gifts of the University of Virginia. As such, we should give back to them.
- Justice was of central importance to Thomas Jefferson; and justice is precisely what will be served by constructing a commemorative memorial for enslaved laborors.
- “It is certainly for the good of the whole nation to assimilate as much as possible all its parts, to strengthen their analogies, obliterate the traits of difference, and to deal law and justice to all by the same rule and the same measure.” –Thomas Jefferson: Batture at New Orleans, 1812. ME 18:80. By initiating a new slavery memorial created by a student at the University of Virginia, the University community would embody Jefferson’s emphasis on dealing with justice and strengthening relationships and analogies among all races.
- Our current memorial is, both physically and symbolically, insufficient to truly do service to the contributions of enslaved laborers.
- Constructing a new memorial is consistent with the University’s goal of commemoration.
- The memorial would enhance the university’s standing as embracing of its history and devoted to the cause of equal educational opportunity for all.
- The legacy of the institution of slavery continues to persist today with extensive racial inequalities within the city of Charlottesville and the Commonwealth of Virginia at large regarding income level, educational attainment, and health care access.
- The University of Virginia is a a leader in public education in the country, and as such should be at the forefront of movements to commemorate history.
For a full summary of focus group responses see Resources section.
Overall, community feedback for a more appropriate memorial for enslaved laborers was supportive.
Process: UCARE (University and Community Action for Racial Equity) and the Diversity Initiatives Committee of Student Council hosted multiple focus groups in order to garner community feedback about the memorial. Each focus group drew participants from the University community (including faculty, students, and staff) and the greater Charlottesville community.
Summary of responses: Participants said that the memorial should communicate shared history. The memorial should make this particular piece of history visible to the community, area visitors, and students. The focus of the memorial should be honoring individuals. Participants thought that names and roles of enslaved laborers should be included as much as possible. The memorial for enslaved laborers should encapsulate and honor the generations of enslaved laborers at the University.
In addition to a spirit of shared history, many believed that the memorial should invoke the spirit of education, changing the status quo, and healing. Because the history of slavery at the University has been under-acknowledged for so long, participants expressed that the memorial should incorporate an educational component. Students who attend UVA, visitors, and the community should know that the University could not have been built or run without slaves. Participants felt the memorial should encapsulate the spirit of both the past and the present by connecting what has happened in the past to the dialogue on race that is happening today.