After a lengthy wait, changes to the newly-renamed Whispering Wall were finally unveiled last week. Formerly named the Frank Hume Memorial Fountain, this structure was built as a memorial to Confederate soldier Frank Hume, who was neither a student nor faculty member at the University. The Board of Visitors first created a committee to decide whether the wall should be removed or rededicated back in September 2020. A year later, this committee recommended the University remove the inscription and replace it with blocks of contrasting colors, rename the memorial and supplement these efforts with digital contextualization. The Board of Visitors approved this recommendation. Today, not only are we dissatisfied with the state of the Whispering Wall, but we are also frustrated with the lack of communication on the University’s digital contextualization project.
Though students have been waiting for two years, they have not been silent. A previous term’s Editorial Board wrote over a year ago demanding the wall’s removal, arguing that at the very least, the Whispering Wall needed physical contextualization that was just as in your face as the wall itself. This demand was not made in isolation. The Minority Rights Coalition, Student Council, a petition and students in attendance at a listening session to the Committee all demanded the same — contextualization wasn’t enough. The Memorial needed to come down.
Today, we repeat these demands and emphasize that they are far from unwarranted. Hume, who never attended the University, was a former Confederate soldier and maintained his allegiance to the Confederacy and white supremacy long after the Civil War. The memorial in his honor was constructed almost 75 years after the Civil War had ended and was part of a movement intended to instill fear and preserve white supremacy. Students and community members of color should not have to plead for members of the Board of Visitors and administrators to take their concerns seriously.
As an Editorial Board, we took it upon ourselves to take a trip over and visit the Whispering Wall. Truth be told, we find that these bricks fall flat. It is barely discernible which bricks replaced the inscription, despite the fact that the recommendation approved by the Board of Visitors promised they did not want to “erase the history of the University’s original decision and its subsequent tacit ratification.” While we have always felt the history of this Memorial could not be communicated through a mere change in brick color, this effort is nothing short of lackluster. Moreover, by leaving the Memorial without any sort of contextualization for the time being, we predict the burden of properly contextualizing these spaces is once again going to fall to students — specifically, the unpaid student volunteers in the University Guide Service and History of Enslaved African American Laborers.
All this being said, the University community deserves clearer and more consistent communication on the state of the University’s digital contextualization project as a whole. Since this was first approved by the Board of Visitors in September 2020, we have heard radio silence. What progress has been made? How are students, community members and faculty being involved in this process? Who is making decisions and how? Relevant stakeholders must be involved in decision-making processes and their perspectives must be taken into account. If the University is truly committed to being an anti-racist institution, it needs to start acting like one.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, the two Senior Associates and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at email@example.com.