First initiated by students at the University of Virginia, the process of making the Memorial was more than a decade-long effort that connected to ongoing initiatives within the University to reckon with its long-hidden history of slavery. The process was one that aimed to engage as many voices as possible and to treat each aspect of the memorial's design process as an opportunity to pay respect to those who were enslaved.
April 2007
Plaque outside the memorial to enslaved laborers.

The UVA Board of Visitors issued a statement of commendation for a Resolution passed by the Virginia State General Assembly that expressed profound regret for the state’s role in slavery. UVA issued a statement that expressed their own particular regret for the use of enslaved persons and installed a small marker near the Rotunda honoring the service of both free and enslaved workers during the construction of the university’s original buildings.

Photo by UVA Magazine

A small group of faculty and students began developing what became University Community Action for Racial Equity (UCARE).

Leadership from student interns at UCARE formed an organization that was recognized by the Student Council as Memorial for Enslaved Laborers or “MEL”.
Competition of ideas for memorial 2011

The student-led group MEL sponsored a “competition of ideas” to raise awareness and promote interest in building a more fitting memorial.

Photo by the Memorial to Enslaved Labors student group
July 2012
Plaque honoring Henry Martin

As the result of efforts by the UVA IDEA Fund, a university alumni group, and the Office for Diversity and Equity, a plaque honoring Henry Martin was installed near the University Chapel. Martin (1826-1915) spent over fifty years at the university as both an enslaved worker and an employee.

October 2012
Archeologist digging in unmarked grave site next to UVA Cemetary

Archaeologists discovered 67 unmarked graves adjacent to the University Cemetery. The internments varied in size, documenting that in addition to many adults, fifteen children were also buried there. No internments were disturbed.

Photo by UVA Magazine
Screen shot of J.U.E.L. website

A small group of UVA faculty found JUEL (Jefferson’s University the Early Life) which would become the major archival research engine for understanding the specific history of slavery at UVA.

Dr. Marcus L. Martin and Professor Kirt von Daacke

UVA President Teresa Sullivan created the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University (PCSU), chaired by Dr. Marcus L. Martin and Professor Kirt von Daacke. The Commission was charged with providing recommendations regarding the recognition and acknowledgment of the history of slavery at the University of Virginia. The commission began community engagement work in the community, building a foundation for later work by the design team.

Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications
January 2013
The UVA IDEA Fund Logo

The UVA IDEA Fund commissioned a report that provided a comprehensive review of the various initiatives focused on the University’s historical relationship to slavery.

October 2014
Crowd gathers outside commemoration ceremony

The PCSU presented the symposium “Universities Confronting the Legacy of Slavery,” which included a commemoration ceremony at the rediscovered African American cemetery.

Gibbons hall exterior

A new residential building was dedicated and named in honor of the memory of William and Isabella Gibbons, who were formerly enslaved by two UVA professors.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications
January 2016
Panel discussion meeting room

The PCSU sponsored a panel discussion on the topic of memorialization and memory as part of the Community MLK Celebration, and University support for the construction of a memorial on Grounds increased as a result. The Board of Visitors added the Memorial to Enslaved Workers to the official list of Capital Building Projects, authorizing funds for the selection of a professional design team.

Photo by Kristen Finn
The design process for the memorial involved intensive meetings with community groups—listening and translating their ideals and ideas into a design that resonates with the UVA community, the community of Charlottesville, and visitors from around the country and abroad. The design team conceived of a project methodology that included three phases during the initial design period: Research and Listening; Analysis and Interpretation; Site Selection and Concept Design.
November 2016
Design team for the memorial

UVA selected a design team for the memorial, including architects Meejin Yoon and Eric Höweler, historian and designer Mabel O. Wilson, landscape architect Gregg Bleam, and community facilitator Frank Dukes. (Artist Eto Otitigbe subsequently joined the team in December of 2017.)

November 2016
Community Engagement Session

The design team began the community engagement process by learning about the work done at UVA by the PCSU and MEL student leadership. Students asked the design team to consider a memorial design that could be a meeting ground for activism as well as a place to learn about Black history.

Photo courtesy of the design team (depicts a community forum in January 2017)
December 2016
Community engagement occurred within the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, including learning about the work done through Monticello’s Getting Word project. Community members said: “The memorial must evoke the human spirit, show pain, love, life, death…” and "The memorial should be visible. The enslaved laborers were marginalized. Therefore, the memorial should be prominently accessible, visible and memorable.”
January 2017
community forum in January 2017

Initial design options were presented to the community for feedback through a meeting with the Steering Committee, two Community Forums, and a meeting at Ebenezer Church.

Photo courtesy of the design team (depicts a community forum in January 2017)
February 2017
community forum in February 2017

Design options were revised and narrowed down to two options based on community feedback. The design team presented to the Steering Committee, held three Community forums, presented to Black Alumni from UVA, and held a meeting at Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church.

March 2017
Members of the community stand on a chalk circle with a circumferance matching the size of the University's Rotunda

After careful study, the memorial was sited in the Triangle of Grass, a threshold on Grounds that is visible and accessible to the wider Charlottesville community. Members of the community stand on a chalk circle with a circumferance matching the size of the University's Rotunda.

April 2017
Rendering of finished memorial

The design of the memorial was further revised through conversations with the Steering Committee, the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, and a presentation during Black Alumni Weekend at UVA.

Rendering by Höweler and Yoon
June 2017
Rendering of memorial with people visiting

A final design approach was approved by the Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee. The vote authorized the team to move forward for “further development and construction,” according to the board resolution.

Rendering by Höweler and Yoon
October 2017
Presenters at the symposium

The PCSU held a symposium “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory, and the Built Landscape,” in collaboration with The Slave Dwelling Project.

Photo by Off the Cuff Photography
December 2017
Artist Eto Otitigbe

Artist Eto Otitigbe was added to the design team and commissioned to create a piece for the memorial.

Video still from ‘A Matter of Design’ produced by Jeneene Chatowsky
With the approval of the memorial’s design approach, the design team worked in collaboration with fabricators to mockup stone construction components for the memorial. Artwork memorializing Isabella Gibbons was developed by artist Eto Otitigbe. Construction of the memorial was led by Team Henry Enterprises.
October 2018
Early memorial construction

The general construction contract was awarded to Team Henry Enterprises. Stone selection began at the Virginia Mist Quarry.

Video still from ‘A Matter of Design’ produced by Jeneene Chatowsky
October 2018
Workers standing on construction site of memorial

The MEL Community Engagement Committee was established to steer ongoing engagement during and after construction.

Photo courtesy of Sarita M. Herman showing the MEL Community Engagement Committee visiting the memorial site in 2019.
December 2018
crane digging foundation of memorial

Ground was broken for the construction of the memorial.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications
Feburary 2019
Stone slab on pallets at a factory

The design team traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to review stone construction mockups at Quarra Stone with a team from UVA. Mockups showed a portion of the artwork depicting Isabella Gibbons’ eyes as designed by Eto Otitigbe.

Photo courtesy of Höweler and Yoon
March 2019
community members participating in blessing ceremony

A blessing ceremony was held on Freedom and Liberation Day (March 3rd) as the memorial is in the early phases of construction.

April 2019
stone foundations at memorial site

Construction reached a major milestone as concrete foundations were completed.

Photo courtesy of Höweler and Yoon
July 2019
Shelley Murphy sitting at a table with a laptop

UVA hired Shelley Murphy as descendant project researcher to continue to identify family ties to the enslaved community at UVA.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications
October 2019
Crane lifting stones into position in the memorial

The first stone in the memorial’s circle was lifted into place by Quarra Stone.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications
December 2019
Memorial with stones in place

Stone installation was completed.

Photo by Rick Stillings
March 2020
People walking past the memorial

The memorial was a stop during Freedom and Liberation Day celebrations commemorating the end of slavery in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications
April 2020
Memorial with one person looking at wall

The official dedication events for the memorial were postponed due to the pandemic.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications
May 2020
Memorial construction was completed.
June 2020
Medical staff in white coats kneeling next to memorial

The UVA community, led by students at the School of Medicine, gathered for “White Coats for Black Lives” demonstration at the MEL site in response to the killing of George Floyd and in support of Black Lives Matter.

Photo by Rick Stillings
January 2021
Person pointing at a spot on the memorial wall.

As the first of an annual event recognizing the continuing work of research and community engagement, the names of Davy Hern, Fanny Gillette Hern, Bonnycastle Hern, Lily Hern, and Ben Snowden were added to the memorial wall.

Photo by Rick Stillings
April 2021

The Descendants of Enslaved Communities at UVA was formally established to serve as a collective voice of all descendants of enslaved and free Black communities who labored at UVA, through research, education, and preservation.

April 2021
Aerial shot of descendants standing around the memorial interior circle

The Descendants of Enslaved Communities at UVA held their first events, a private dedication ceremony during which the memorial’s water was first turned on, and a virtual panel discussion on Descendant Communities in Virginia.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications
April 2021
Musicians playing at the dedication ceremony of the memorial

The official Dedication Ceremony for the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers was held virtually.

Image of Charlottesville-based group, Chihamba, performing at the Dedication Ceremony
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