On a recent rainy afternoon, many gathered in the Rotunda to celebrate the emancipation of 14,000 enslaved people of a total population of 27,000 in Charlottesville and Albemarle County after the Civil War Rio Hill skirmish and surrender. We were celebrating Liberation and Freedom Day on March 3rd, 2019 with those who are descendants from the enslaved laborers who build the university, ministers, choir group, University architect, Board of Visitors member, faculty, staff and alumni and individuals from the community.
The choir was heartwarming with their message that no one can hold you down and you can make a difference, contribute and each have a valuable life. And James Murray, Vice Rector, told us that the child had been born at the hospital that day and he referred to the child as Hope. He laid out by stages of life what we as a community and the university together could do to give this child and every child here opportunities for a full and rich life. What an empowering proposal for us to work together to make happen in our lives and for the futures of our children.
We also learned of some of the realities of being a in slave labor. That the Rotunda itself took more than 1 million bricks to dig, form, bake, move, and build. And we learned that some of those bricks were made by children because their handprints are still in the bricks. We now have a commemorative vial of soil perfect for making bricks from the construction site marked with the date of the ceremony and the outline of the Memorial.
On site of the memorial one can see a sample slab. Only about 1/4 or so of the enslaved laborers is known their occupation or their name and the rest are slashes, like slashes from a whip as a line for each person. It is stunning.
Westminster Presbyterian Church last year made a gift of $2,000 toward the construction of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. This represents our church’s continued commitment both to the causes of justice within our community and to our ministry to the University of Virginia. This site is important to the community’s and to the University’s ongoing reflection on its past, actions and building stronger relationships going forward.
I personally have been watching the progress on the Memorial as I walk to work each day and looking forward to its completion. The university is also planning a dedication ceremony for the completed project in Spring 2020. I hope you will join in that celebration.
Benevolence and Mission Endowment Committee