Student researchers with CSSR have pored over handwritten record books, like this one in Roanoke County archives, in an effort to learn more about the enslaved people who contributed to the early growth of Roanoke College and the surrounding area.
Roanoke College receives artists' concepts for memorial to enslaved laborers
A memorial to recognize and honor the role of enslaved people in the history of Roanoke College and greater Southwest Virginia is now one step closer to becoming a reality.
Six artists have submitted concepts to the College for consideration in the memorial project, which was initiated two years ago by the school's Center for Studying Structures of Race (CSSR). Jesse Bucher, College Historian and CSSR director, said a jury made up of stakeholders from Roanoke College, the local community and the arts world will evaluate the concepts and select an artist this spring.
Creative Time, a New York-based creative arts company, is partnering with Roanoke College and the CSSR on the memorial project and working closely with the artists to develop and finalize their proposals.
In late February, the proposals will be shared with the Community Vision Committee, comprised of community members and college faculty, staff and students. That group will hear descriptions of each artist’s concept and give feedback to Creative Time to be used when the jury begins its review process.
Since 2019, CSSR has been working on a comprehensive plan to commemorate the role of enslaved people both in the history of the College and across the wider region. CSSR sponsors the Genealogy of Slavery project, which documents enslaved individuals who were either connected to Roanoke College or who lived in Roanoke County. This summer, student researchers will create a publicly accessible database that makes that research available to genealogists and historians.
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“Our student-centered research project is one of the many initiatives taking place right now in Southwest Virginia that reveal a broader and more truthful history of the region,” Bucher said. “Exhibits at the Glencoe Mansion, Museum & Gallery in Radford; programming sponsored by the Christiansburg Institute; and interpretive work carried out by community historians in Roanoke City all closely document the history of enslaved and formerly enslaved people who shaped this region.”
“You have recognized memorials on your campus, you have recognized some of the physical assets and former leaders of the institution ... these issues are not hidden here. Now you are doing the difficult work of grappling with it to say: What should we do next? ”
~ Ainsley Carry, author of "Washington Next? Disputed Monuments, Symbols, and Honorees on Campus"
As part of the preparation for the memorial installation, CSSR has hosted a community open house, undertaken a survey and organized the Memorials, Monuments & Memory Lecture Series to spur conversations about monuments, including what purpose they serve and how artists approach them. The lecture series has included a talk by Henry Louis Gates Jr., an American literary critic, professor, historian, filmmaker and public intellectual. It has also included conversations with artists and scholars who engage issues related to public memory and history, including Charles Gaines, Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Nicholas Galanin and Mabel O. Wilson, who co-designed the memorial to enslaved laborers at the University of Virginia.
RELATED: Catch up on Memorials, Monuments & Memory via CSSR’s video archive
RELATED: Ainsley Carry offers context for schools confronting complex past
On Feb. 8, the College hosted another guest in the series, Ainsley Carry, vice president of students at the University of British Columbia and author of "Washington Next? Disputed Monuments, Honorees, and Symbols on Campus." In his book, Carry tackled the challenge of negotiating memorial disputes on campuses.
“Most universities respond to these disputes only after the campus protest,” Carry said. “Your university has been proactive about listening to students and bringing these issues to the table. You have recognized memorials on your campus, you have recognized some of the physical assets and former leaders of the institution ... these issues are not hidden here. Now you are doing the difficult work of grappling with it to say: What should we do next? So, I want to acknowledge the good work that you are doing and the good work that you will be doing in the future.”
Below: The future memorial is set to be built on what is currently open space (pictured here) located next to Bittle Memorial Hall off Maxey Way.