Freedom wall celebrates Charlottesville personal expression since 2006

Sponsor organization to build mobile monument for use across Virginia


Josh Wheeler said he was initially worried people would lose interest in the wall, but that has not been the case.

Since its construction in 2006, the Freedom of Speech Monument in downtown Charlottesville has allowed city residents and visitors to express opinions, promote nonprofits and small businesses and bring attention to important issues in the community.

The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression spearheaded the project, which was completed in April 2006. The center raised the money to build the wall and continues to maintain it along with help from private citizens.

Josh Wheeler, the center’s director, said the monument serves to fully recognize and pay tribute to freedom of speech.

“Although our country is filled with monuments to events and people, there are very few that commemorate ideas,” Wheeler said. “We feel it’s particularly important to remind people of one of the most important ideals on which this country was founded.”

The project began with a competition amongst members of the Charlottesville community to send in monument designs which would best serve to commemorate freedom of speech, Wheeler said. A committee then chose between the designs.

Originally there were concerns about how the monument would be used, Robert O’Neil, former professor of Constitutional Law at the University, said in an email.

“Those fears rapidly dissipated and the Wall soon become a fully respected free speech site and amply used (and written upon) facility,” O’Neil said.

Wheeler said the most memorable and touching use of the monument he could remember was the vigil held by the wall after the shooting at Virginia Tech in April 2007. It was then covered in prayers and condolences for the Virginia Tech community.

“In that way the monument served as a means for the community to come together and share their grief and to send a single message of support to Virginia Tech,” Wheeler said.

The monument serves a variety of purposes. Most recently, Help Save the Next Girl, a national nonprofit formed in honor of late Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, held a memorial in remembrance of Hannah Graham and her disappearance in 2014. Community members wrote “HG2014” across the wall to resemble pins handed out last fall.

The Value of Water Coalition’s “Imagine a Day Without Water” Campaign used the wall in October to help outline ways in which people can conserve water. The StoryLine Project, an arts project for Charlottesville youth, also drew a mural in 2011 which depicted the history of Charlottesville.

Wheeler said though he was initially worried people would lose interest in the wall, this has not been the case.

“We underpredicted how much it would get used,” Wheeler said. “We clean the monument and just a few hours later it is almost filled up again.”

Other communities have expressed interest in the monument, leading the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression to create a mobile version for use across Virginia.

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