Meaningful memorials

The University should erect a more visible memorial to acknowledge the role of slavery in its past

Student Council's Diversity Initiative hosted a forum April 5 titled, "The Slave Experience at U.Va: Uncovering the Truth," which discussed the lives of black people in Charlottesville before the Civil War. Although this event highlighted how blacks contributed to the University, measures like these are simply not enough to do the past justice. The University needs to put forth a more thorough effort to remember the history of black subjugation that facilitated the creation of "Mr. Jefferson's" University. What about those students who did not see the presentations? There needs to be a visible memorial created for students that cannot be ignored or overlooked. African-American life and history at the University is significant, and it is not something that should be mentioned in passing. All the effort that the University spent in creating the Edgar Allen Poe shrine on the Range - he did not even graduate from the University - should be put toward remembering the slaves. In a state where Gov. Bob McDonnell can declare a Confederate History Month without mentioning slavery, it is crucial that the University create a prominent memorial to the slaves that helped to construct the University.

Council's event commenced with a survey on student knowledge about the University, where "The majority of respondents said they knew slavery had taken place at the University but did not know about the memorial commemorating those slaves." This is unacceptable. Part of the reason that students cannot pinpoint the memorial is because it is a nondescript marker located near the Rotunda. When the University mentions things that slaves built, they omit the truth behind who built it. For example, about a month ago, UVA Magazine posted a YouTube clip of the University "Then and Now," and not once did they mention slaves. The video stated that "the University constructed the Rotunda annex in the 1850's." Those well-versed in University history know it was the slaves that formed the bricks from the dirt that now forms Mad-Bowl to create the annex.

It is easy to forget the radicalized history of the University. This is not the first time, however, that the University has been asked to be accountable for slavery at the University. In 2006, Rick Turner, former dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education that "I personally think that an apology from the University for the unpunished brutality and bullying of slaves and free Blacks during that awful time in our history at the University of Virginia would be a major step toward improving current race relations." In addition, Council supported a new slavery memorial last November. "The problem is we don't talk about how slavery really is the cause of all the things that are going on this country in terms of racial inequality," former College representative Eugene Resnick said. The accuracy of that statement at times is all too troubling.

Where should we put the memorial? I say we put it right where the Alexander Calder sculpture is in front of Peabody Hall. The statue looks like it was beamed down from outer space. It is a contemporary statue in a historic area of grounds - having the effect of a rusted car on a front lawn.

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