Tracy Howe Wispelwey has been organizing with United Ministries, the consortium of interfaith clergy serving students at U.Va., professors, students, administrators and community leaders to plan a liberation service at U.Va. chapel next Friday, March 3 at 4pm.
In 2016, the Charlottesville City Council assembled The Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Monuments, and Public Spaces (BRC), and tasked the BRC with “changing the narrative on race” in the city. The BRC drew attention to the little-known historical fact that, at the time of the Civil War, the outright majority of local residents (14,000 out of 26,000) of Charlottesville and Albemarle County were enslaved. The Charlottesville City Council subsequently proclaimed March 3 to be “Liberation and Freedom Day,” to commemorate March 3, 1865, when 52% of the local population, some 14,000 enslaved individuals, began to be freed.
Liberation and Freedom Day links “town and gown.” UVA officials and the mayor of Charlottesville together waved the white flag of surrender from the site of the current UVA Chapel at 4 p.m. on March 3, 1865, thus relinquishing Charlottesville and the University to the authority of Union Generals Custer and Sheridan, who guarded the University against damage. Archival records attest to the relief and jubilation of many enslaved “servants” (as the UVA faculty minutes documenting these days referred to them) from the University, the town of Charlottesville, and the surrounding Albemarle County as they were liberated by Union troops who enforced the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and took the opportunity to escape bondage, many becoming refugees behind Union lines.
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