The Committee on Naming and Memorials hosted a two-hour listening session Wednesday evening during which members of the public commented on the future of the Frank Hume Memorial Fountain. Over 20 individuals, including University students, alumni and members of the community, called in to the session to appeal to the committee, all of whom expressed their support for the removal of the memorial in its entirety.
All eight members of the committee were present at the session and callers could dial-in to make a three-minute timed public comment or simply listen to the session.
The Frank Hume Memorial Fountain — also known as the Whispering Wall for its unique ability to transmit sound from one side of the wall to the other — was erected in 1938 in honor of Frank Hume, who was a soldier and spy in the Confederate Army before he served in the Virginia House of Delegates. The statue was funded by John and Howard Hume, Frank’s sons who both attended the University and were major donors. Located near Newcomb Hall and Monroe Hall, the memorial consists of a fountain and wall with an inscription that describes Hume as “a devoted Virginian who served his native state in civil war and legislative hall.”
The memorial has been the subject of mounting public criticism because of Hume’s roots with the Confederacy — in late February, the Minority Rights Coalition at the University launched a petition and letter campaign calling for the removal of the memorial in its entirety. On Monday, the memorial was vandalized with red paint, an incident which the University is currently investigating. The paint has since been removed.
After the Board of Visitors voted to rededicate or remove the memorial last fall, the University created the Committee on Naming and Memorials in February to make recommendations on the naming and contextualization of statues, monuments and buildings on Grounds.
Michael Suarez — committee chair, English professor and director of the Rare Book School — opened the event by thanking listeners and participants for taking the time to share their opinions with committee members.
Anthony Guy Lopez, a class of 2009 alumnus and head of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Group at U.Va., was the first caller in the session. Lopez, who is an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, first objected to the committee’s lack of Native American members, citing that the Committee on Naming and Memorials has no Native American representation even though many of the monuments and memorials at the University are directly related to Native American history.
For example, the George Rogers Clark statue depicts Clark on horseback alongside American soldiers towering over a group of Native Americans alongside an inscription that reads “Conqueror of the Northwest.” The Board voted to remove and relocate the statue last fall, but the removal date is still unclear.
Lopez said he hopes the committee will further consult with the community before making decisions.
“None of the work of your committee has come out of the product of a consultation with the public or the community — not the way [the Committee was] composed or the way that you conducted your work,” Lopez said. “This is your first public consultation, but the Board of Visitors have been already making decisions based on your recommendations.”
In a meeting of the full board April 13, the Board voted to support recommendations made by the committee, which suggested a digital contextualization of memorials and statues on Grounds to help students, visitors and community members develop an “informed perspective” on the history of the University — rather than a visual indicator like a plaque or sign, or physical disruption of the historic landscape. The committee said this would allow the University to represent the complex and nuanced histories entwined with these statues and memorials.
Tichara Robertson, first-year College student and Student Council representative, spoke next in favor of removing the memorial. Robertson called the memorial a “glorification” of Hume’s life and contributions to the Confederate South.
“If the University is claiming to be in support of Black students and wants to promote a safe and healthy, welcoming environment, they should listen to the concerns of Black and minority students on Grounds and show their support through actions — actions like completely taking down the wall,” Robertson said.
Robertson also read a statement on behalf of Nina Santana, a first-year College student and Student Council representative, who echoed Robertson’s call to remove the Whispering Wall.
“How can we ever be comfortable at a school that honors white supremacists?” Santana wrote in her statement. “The only way to help make life at the University better for Black students is to remove the Whispering Wall and to continue removing every single memorial that protects and upholds U.Va.’s foundations of racism and systemic oppression.”
Abena Appiah-Ofori, vice-chair of advocacy for the Minority Rights Coalition and second-year College student, spoke next, calling for the committee to remove the memorial.
“As a Black student, we’re told all the time that U.Va. supports us, but that’s not possible when there’s a Confederate memorial right in the middle of Grounds,” Appiah-Ofori said. “I feel like it’s a very straightforward situation.”
In February, Appiah-Ofori said she was disappointed the committee was considering rededication, and many of the students who spoke at the session echoed the sentiment that it is not enough to simply contextualize or rededicate the memorial.
“Leaving the memorial up, regardless of the contextualization process that might occur, is saying that ultimately U.Va. still stands for pandering to donors or alumni who see it as a tradition, even when it has negative impacts on the student body,” one graduate student said in a comment. “You can’t pretend or contextualize that impact away.”
Lillian Rojas, first-year College student and Student Council representative, called in to demand that the committee remove the memorial, calling it “downright sad that students have even had to engage in this conversation” to remove a memorial dedicated to a Confederate soldier.
Gabriela Hernandez, second-year College student and chair of the Student Council representative body, reiterated previous callers’ demands to completely remove the memorial, saying she found it “appalling” that the University has continued to allow the memorial to stand.
“This structure will always serve as a reminder that the racist ideals upheld by the Confederacy are also ideals the University is proud to preserve,” Hernandez said, quoting from an open letter the MRC wrote to the University.
Hibah Berhanu, chair of the MRC and fourth-year College student, called in to discuss a racist comment that was left on one of MRC’s social media posts encouraging students to attend the listening session.
“It was blatant racism, a slur posted under the Instagram [post],” Berhanu said, choosing not to share the comment itself because of its offensive content. “What I wanted to share because of that is … if this monument is empowering people to say blatantly racist things on social media, it’s just clear that it needs to go.”
University and Charlottesville community members continued to call in and call for the committee to remove the memorial, many echoing previous sentiments that the memorial embodies racism and commemorates a white supremacist.
“If we’re really striving to be a ‘great and good’ university, we should reexamine the legacy of racism and slavery on our Grounds,” one caller said.
The session lasted two hours, and afterwards Suarez thanked callers for taking the “time and trouble” to call in.
“We will take these inputs to our deliberations,” Suarez said.
The committee hopes to make a decision about the memorial before the Board of Visitors meets again in June.