In 1826, months after Thomas Jefferson died, the Rotunda at the University of Virginia was completed. A memorial just east of the Rotunda was dedicated 194 years later in remembrance of the enslaved laborers who built it. On Tuesday, five names were added. Myra Anderson, a descendant of enslaved laborers who built the University of Virginia, has been working for more than a year to join the names of her ancestors to the thousands of others that cover the 8-foot wall of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. “This process of going back and forth with UVA officials incredibly confusing and frustrating,” Anderson said in a statement. “At times I really wanted to give up the fight, but my DNA wouldn’t let me. For well over a year now, I’ve been hoping and praying for this day.” She received a letter from the university in December, informing her that five of her Hern ancestors would be added to the memorial. Along with a timeline of when the names would be added, the letter included an apology from the university for not including those names initially. “What it means to me is bringing dignity and humanity to my enslaved ancestors who were here,” Anderson said. “The names give a true and accurate account of what happened here.” Anderson was accompanied by other members of her family at a private dedication for the addition of their ancestors’ names. There was to be a public dedication of the memorial in April 2020, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has not yet been rescheduled. Moving forward, Anderson is glad that people will see the names and know the story of the estimated 5,000 enslaved people who worked at the university from 1817 until the end of the Civil War in 1865. “I actually would like to write a children’s book about my experience of getting my ancestors names on the wall and their connection to the University of Virginia, so that’s my next step,” Anderson said. “The process was very long, [but] it’s nothing compared to what my ancestors endured here,” she said.
Mike Kropf is a photographer with work printed in various publications in central Virginia. Previously, he was the staff photographer for Longwood University and a photographer for the Washington Football Team.More by Mike Kropf