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UVA’s ‘Freedom Ring’ Memorial Will Honor 1800s Enslaved Blacks

A circular stone wall, open at one section, rises from an open green area of the University of Virginia’s Grounds east of Brooks Hall and across from the Corner. Within this circle, a stone bench provides opportunity for quiet reflection, especially when reading the names inscribed on the interior wall – names of enslaved laborers who worked to build and sustain the University.

This is the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, featuring the “Freedom Ring” designed to commemorate the contributions of enslaved workers.

“Our decision to create a memorial to enslaved workers is an expression of our shared commitment to tell the full story of the University’s past, as we look toward its future,” UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan said.

The design emerged after months of research and public outreach to the University community, alumni and Charlottesville-area residents by the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University.

University researchers continue to delve into the issue, but already estimate that thousands of enslaved laborers worked to build and sustain UVA during its formative years.

“This memorial design is a powerful statement that speaks to the University of Virginia’s full and honest history, and its sincerity in appropriately commemorating that history,” said commission co-chair Dr. Marcus Martin, UVA’s vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity.

The interior face of the wall will be polished stone and bear the names of enslaved workers – nearly 1,000 names from the years 1817 to 1865.

Slavery Commission co-chair and history professor Kirt von Daacke and others estimate the total number of enslaved laborers at the University over that time period probably reaches at least 5,000 people.

By Anne E. Bromley,
Special to the Guide

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