The College of William & Mary has chosen a concept for a memorial to African Americans enslaved by the school.
President Katherine Rowe on Friday told the university’s governing board that she had chosen “Hearth,” a concept created by a William & Mary alumnus that resembles a brick fireplace, as the winner of the international competition launched in August.
“The hearth is an ancient, powerful symbol of home, of community, and of belonging,” Rowe said in a statement. “The exploited labor of enslaved African Americans helped create William & Mary, and this memorial concept will unequivocally recognize their lasting contributions to this institution, with humility, gratitude and conscience.”
The concept, which is not final and could change during the design process, includes the use of brick, a source of illumination and a place for the enslaved people’s names to be highlighted.
Rowe, in her first year as William & Mary president, selected the proposal after a nine-member jury made up of history, museum and art professionals reviewed more than 80 submissions since the university opened the competition last year.
The effort began 12 years ago when students called on the school to build a memorial. William & Mary is one of many schools working to acknowledge its racist past, which includes slavery and racial discrimination.
William Sendor, who graduated from William & Mary in 2011 with a government degree, took on the design as a personal project. The North Carolina-based architectural designer read “Institutional Slavery: Slaveholding Churches, Schools, Colleges, and Businesses in Virginia, 1680-1860” by Jennifer Oast and when reading a chapter about his alma mater, was moved by the discussion of fire’s role in the lives of those enslaved by William & Mary.
“I was inspired by the idea of illumination,” he said in a statement. “To figuratively illuminate the forgotten history and memory of these enslaved people who sacrificed and contributed immeasurably to William & Mary for over half of the College’s history, and then to physically illuminate a shared space for community gathering and reflection for generations to come.”
A resolution passed by William & Mary’s student government in 2007 called for the university to create a memorial for the enslaved people. A special initiative — formally called the Lemon Project — was established to research William & Mary’s role in slavery while making its findings public and lead the memorial creation.
William & Mary is the nation’s second-oldest college and relied on slave labor for more than 150 years after its 1693 founding. It also bought and sold slaves, The Washington Post reported last year.
In April 2018, the board of visitors formally apologized for the school’s history of slavery and racial discrimination. A year later, it’s closer to having a physical reminder of its past.
“This memorial is a long time coming,” said Lemon Project Director Jody Allen, who is also a history professor at William & Mary.
William & Mary is not alone.
A special commission created by the University of Virginia released a report last year that details the state flagship’s history of abusing enslaved black workers. The report also suggested a memorial as one way UVA can reconcile its past.
Princeton, Harvard and Columbia have also disclosed their slavery connections in recent years.
Where William & Mary’s memorial will go on campus has not been decided but will be during the design phase, which is also when a cost estimate for the project will be determined.
The school has already raised $150,000 for the project, and the board of visitors has vowed to match all donations for the memorial.
Also on Friday, the school’s board opted to freeze the cost of tuition, canceling out a vote last November to boost in-state undergraduate rates 5.4 percent for incoming freshmen.
Students from Virginia coming to William & Mary in the fall will pay $17,434 annually for the next four years. Mandatory fees will still cost $5,966. Out-of-state undergraduate tuition will rise $1,354, or 3.5 percent, to $40,089 annually.
William & Mary is the latest to freeze tuition after state lawmakers included in next year’s budget enough money to stop tuition increases that have far exceeded the rate of inflation. The school’s tuition and fees have risen 128 percent since the 2008-09 school year.