Charlottesville’s list of memorials is popularly dominated by two statues of Confederate generals, but in the next five years, local officials hope three new monuments will reshape the landscape.
Words etched in granite, on display during a tour Tuesday, will form the focal point of the University of Virginia’s Memorial for Enslaved Laborers. Of an estimated 4,000 enslaved people who lived and worked at the university from 1817 to 1865, researchers have uncovered 577 names and dozens more identifiers, such as “Sister,” “Ben” and “Elizabeth Ailstock.”
UVa’s $6 million effort culminates a decade of student calls for a memorial and is joined by a new marker in Albemarle County to honor John Henry James, who was lynched in 1898, and a Vinegar Hill memorial, currently in the fundraising stage, that will commemorate an African American neighborhood leveled in 1965. The three memorial sites are little more than a mile apart from each other, and proponents, spurred by the 2017 white supremacist Unite the Right rally, hope they will help tell a new history of Charlottesville—one that better reflects the decades of slavery, violence and segregation that built Central Virginia, and one that encourages current residents to continue working for equity and justice.
“The [UVa] monument is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Frank Dukes, a professor of architecture who has worked on the city’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces and is an organizer of UCARE, which began pushing, along with UVa students, for a memorial in 2007. “It’s just part of the overall truth-telling effort; changing the landscape is part of the effort of repair.”
A recent forum at the Jefferson School of African American History included discussions of all three memorials.
“In order to encourage the full range of these histories, there has to be an iconography, a language that says these monuments are about large conversations,” said Jefferson School executive director Andrea Douglas, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission and was co-chair of UVa’s slavery commission.
UVa’s memorial will sit on a triangle of grass just east of the university and across the street from the Corner, on the route of the annual Liberation and Freedom Day march.