The UVa campus, or “Grounds” as the Hoos like to call it, is one of the most beautiful school campuses with its Jeffersonian architecture and the Rotunda as the centerpiece of the school. However, beneath the alluring exterior of Grounds, there is a dark and painful past. The University has recently decided to confront and make steps towards healing by honoring black lives.
The history of enslaved labor at UVa
Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University of Virginia is rich in history with buildings and school traditions that date back two centuries. Recently, the students and the staff at the University have decided to uncover more of its history and shine light on the dark side of UVa’s past, specifically the use of enslaved laborers to build and maintain this institution. Starting from 1817 to 1865, there have been 4,000 to 5,000 African American slaves who worked and lived at the University. They contributed heavily to the foundation and maintenance of the University for over four decades.
Confronting their past
In 2010, a group of students decided that the University should not brush aside the fact that it was a site of enslavement, but honor the individuals that built UVa. This was the first step of building the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia. The ideas and construction took ten years, and it was finished in April of 2020, helping UVa in honoring black lives.
About the UVa Memorial
This memorial is shaped like a broken circle to symbolize a broken shackle and it has 4,000 marks on it to honor all the slaves who contributed to the foundation of UVa. Among the 4,000 marks are 973 names and occupations of known enslaved laborers. It is located in between the Rotunda and the Corner in the “Triangle of Grass”. The memorial invites all people to interact with it and reflect on the history of the construction of UVa.
The meaning of the memorial: UVa honoring black lives
The UVa Memorial to Enslaved Laborers is not to just honor the enslaved individuals and serve as a quick fix to the decades in which the University has been a site of enslavement, but a reminder that there has been such a past and that it cannot and will not be forgotten. Find out more on the UVa President’s Commission to Slavery and the University.
Questions about UVa honoring black lives to discuss on Ohlelo
- What other steps can UVa take in honoring black lives?
- How does the creation of this memorial fit into the BLM movement?
- Is UVa doing enough in confronting their past and growing?