WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — A memorial honoring the lives of those enslaved on the campus of William & Mary is finally open to the public.
On Saturday, the school dedicated the memorial called “Hearth” at a ceremony for students, staff, and the community.
“It’s really been about 15 years moving toward this,” said Jody Allen, who is an assistant professor of history. “It moved from just an idea or desire to a reality. I think that Saturday was celebratory.”
Allen, who is also the Robert Francis Engs director of the Lemon Project, says the memorial is in recognition of those enslaved by the school or students and staff who worked, built, and maintained William & Mary from its founding in 1693 to the end of the Civil War in 1865.
“It’s a lot of emotion, you know. For a long time, they were unknown. All of them were unknown or unacknowledged. I think there were always people who knew William & Mary enslaved people but it wasn’t a part of the public story. This memorial means to me that they won’t be lost in the archives. Their presence here is what we like to say here at William & Mary ‘for all time coming,'” Allen said.
The memorial is part of three requests passed by the Student Assembly in 2007 for the Board of Visitors to complete.
The first was the creation of a commission, The Lemon Project, to research the school’s history and role with slavery. The second was to make the public finding. The last request was the memorial, which was designed by William & Mary alumnus William Sendor.
“To see the number of people here, the people who cared about this and wanted to come and see it in its state of finished, so to speak, and it was wonderful to see so many alumni’s who hadn’t all necessarily had a good experience at William & Mary but to see William & Mary changing. William & Mary is recognizing its role in the history of this country and role in history of slavery. It was kind of atmosphere of joy,” she said about Saturday’s event.
Allen says Hearth’s design represents both the highs and lows of the lives of the enslaved.
“It was a place of toil, a place of discomfort. They had to boil water for laundry, for cooking, for cleaning. So it was a place of heat. They needed the hearth because the enslaved people made the bricks. It represented hard labor in many ways. But it always represented a place, when they were alone so to speak, where the built community,” she said.
“Hearth” is made of bricks and includes 199 blocks with names and unknown names of those who have been found in the records.
Allen says each year, the university will add names as they continue their research, which will also include the school’s legacy of slavery and the impacts it’s had on the community.
“It’s important to recognize the whole story. You can’t ignore that part that makes you a little uncomfortable. It’s important to recognize it all. If you don’t recognize and remember, nothing’s really going to change. I hope people come here and see the names of the individuals and acknowledge that yes, this country, this economy of this country was founded on the institute of slavery but we don’t have to stay there. In order to move forward, we have to acknowledge. This is us acknowledging it,” she said.