Plans for the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia are moving forward after receiving the endorsement of UVa’s Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee on Friday.
“We’ve been having a conversation here at the university on how best to recognize our enslaved laborers and the history here at the university,” Committee Chairman Kevin Fay said.
Some initial steps toward the creation of the memorial date back to a student design competition in 2011 and the creation of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University in 2013. A design team was not formally selected until last fall, when the Board of Visitors hired the Boston-based firm Howeler + Yoon to design the memorial.
Since then, there have been various opportunities for the community to offer input on potential designs.
“We had a number of forums — we talked with students on Grounds, we had forums on Grounds that brought together faculty, students, community members,” said Mabel Wilson, who served on the design team. “We also did outreach at local churches and met with a number of people who are engaged in the research of slavery at Montpelier and Monticello.”
Wilson, an associate architecture professor at Columbia University, received her bachelor’s degree in architecture from UVa.
“As an African-American student here at UVa, I always wondered what was the history of slavery at the university,” she said. “Often, the history of slavery has been hiding in plain sight.”
The memorial will be located across from the Corner in the “TOG,” which is also known as the “triangle of grass” or “triangle of green.”
“The triangle of green is also historically a productive landscape, a working landscape that was worked by the enslaved as a vegetable garden and fruit tree garden,” said Meejin Yoon, of Howeler + Yoon. “Ultimately, we were encouraged … to move forward with the triangle of green because of its accessibility, its critical connection between the university and Charlottesville.”
The design features rings that surround a central grass area. The inner wall will include the known names of nearly 1,000 enslaved individuals in the university’s history, and additional names may be incorporated over time with further research.
“While we know some of the names, we do not know all of the names,” Yoon said.
During the presentation, it was noted that nearly 5,000 people are believed to have worked as slaves at UVa between 1817 and 1865.
Visitors will be able to sit on a central ring, which includes a timeline that provides context for the memorial and a water element that symbolizes the role water played in liberation and bringing slaves to freedom.
The central grass area is envisioned as a gathering space for the community.
The committee unanimously approved a schematic design for further development and construction, and next steps will include a fundraising campaign. According to materials presented at the meeting, the cost is estimated to be between $5.5 and $6 million.
“The memorial participates in this larger context of recognition and memorialization of slavery,” said Yoon, who noted City Council’s decision earlier this year to recognize March 3 as Liberation and Freedom Day. The day commemorates Union troops liberating 14,000 African-American slaves in Charlottesville in 1865.
The committee also received an update on plans for the Ivy Corridor, which is a 14.5-acre site at the intersection of Emmet Street and Ivy Road. The university’s plans for the area include improvements to pedestrian and bicycle connectivity. The university has been coordinating with the city, which received $12.1 million in state funds for streetscape improvements on Emmet Street.
Plans also call for new green space where the Cavalier Inn is currently located.
“We’ve had conversations with the [UVa] Foundation and [UVa] Facilities Management and it seems that the Cavalier Inn will likely cease operations in May of 2018, and we would start demolition the following month in June,” University Architect Alice Raucher said. The closure would take place after Finals Weekend.
Colette Sheehy, the university’s senior vice president for operations, said the foundation has met with the inn’s approximately 35 employees.
“We’re providing them with outplacement services and help in looking for and finding another job. There’s also some retention packages if they stay working at the inn through its closure,” Sheehy said.
The committee was not required to take any actions on the demolition because the foundation owns the hotel, which has 118 rooms.
Schematic designs for a new upperclass residence hall on Brandon Avenue also were approved at the meeting. The new building would include 338 bedrooms with four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments. The residence hall is part of the Brandon Avenue Master Plan, which envisions a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape, as well as a new student health center.
The committee also approved architects for two upcoming projects. Wilmot Sanz of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was selected for a fourth floor fit-out of the Emily Couric Cancer Center, and ZGF Architects of Washington, D.C., was selected for the Ivy Mountain Orthopedics Center.
The committee also was briefed on planning efforts involving North Grounds and the university’s Athletic Precinct, which includes athletic facilities located off Copeley Road and Massie Road. More information will be presented at future meetings.