CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - On Saturday, the University of Virginia held a virtual dedication for its Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, reflecting on the names and titles of those who built the university eternalized in its stone.
“I’ve stood, cried, grieved, in the midst of the monument, encamped by slopes of granite. I’ve heard the voices of the ancestors, those enslaved, calling, yet only heard by those willing to receive,” said Carolyn Mitchell Dillard, a descendant of enslaved laborers.
President Jim Ryan was among alumni, researchers, committee leaders, advocates and descendants to speak at the live-streamed dedication.
“It is not only a bridge between generations, but also a bridge from the darkness of hidden injustices to the light that knowledge and recognition bring,” Ryan said.
The memorial honors the estimated 4,000 enslaved laborers who built and maintained the university between 1817 and 1865.
“Uncovering these important stories of our story is the of the upmost importance,” said Lorenzo Dickerson, a descendant of enslaved laborers who’s created a documentary highlighting his family’s past. “It means a physical acknowledgement of the work these folks did to build the university and their contribution.”
The virtual dedication highlighted the years of advocacy, research, planning, and reflection to create a lasting monument on Grounds.
“This memorial located at the north pathway to freedom and the sunset on the day 14,000 enslaved in Charlottesville and Albemarle County were liberated, allows us to reflect and hopefully, heal,” said Dr. Marcus Martin, co-chair of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University.
Through traditional song and dance, as well as poetry, their stories and voices were honored. Deteasa Gathers, co-chair of the Descendants of Enslaved Laborers Community Group, said she hopes they will never be forgotten.
“I want the next brown girl like me to understand that they come from people that are resilient, people that worked hard, people that labored for this community and not just the University of Virginia,” Gathers said.