Burial ground recognized on UR campus with planned memorial

November 16, 2020

University News

The University of Richmond has installed signage on campus to mark the sacred space of a former burial ground for enslaved persons and describe what is known about the desecration that occurred there. The signage also details the University’s plans to more permanently acknowledge the site going forward.

The University plans to memorialize the enslaved burial ground on what is now part of the campus and the history of the land on which the University now sits, including its intersections with enslavement.

Earlier this semester, Biology professor Carrie Wu, who teaches the Sophomore Scholars in Residence class “The Paradox of the Cultivated Wild,” took her students on a walking tour that included the burial ground on campus.

As part of Wu’s class, she and her students explored the possible tensions between the ecological restoration and the cultural history of landscapes. Sophomore Corrine Manderino noted in her class reflection, “These two tours felt like another one of those moments, where we went from a focus on the beauty and tranquility of the area to understanding the history and repercussions of the area’s creation.”

Another student in the course, Mason Manley, observed, “History is a real cultural resource and we need to ensure we document it, no matter where we are or what the development or restoration is.”

Those who want to learn more about the burial ground can scan a QR code on the sign that links to a research report by Lauranett Lee, a public historian and UR professor leading the historical research, and Shelby Driskill, a UR graduate researcher, who have explored the reported enslaved burial ground on campus. Their research has been studied in numerous classes and discussed in various open forums across campus, including as part of first-year orientation.

In January, University of Richmond President Ronald A. Crutcher established a Burial Ground Memorialization Committee to engage a range of stakeholders in discussions. “Our story is often inspirational, but there are aspects of the past we have long ignored, including the significant history of the land on which our campus now stands,” Crutcher said.

“The signage signals the burial ground’s important history,” Crutcher said. “The signage is only temporary, though, as the work of the committee will lead to the shaping of a permanent memorial.”

The committee chaired by Ed Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus, and Keith “Mac” McIntosh, vice president of Information Services and CIO, has held virtual meetings over several weeks to learn about the hopes of the university community for memorialization of the Burial Ground. Burt Pinnock, a Richmond architect will help guide the efforts.

The committee is also consulting with descendants of individuals enslaved on the land to solicit their thoughts about the most appropriate memorialization.

“The signage is an important milestone on our journey,” McIntosh said. “The full and accurate history of the land we currently occupy helps us understand the people who came before us and helps us understand how we might best connect our present with our past and future.”

“We can’t connect our present to our past without a comprehensive and truthful view of our rich history,” he added.

Anyone with stories, questions, or information to share, is asked to write the committee at inclusivehistory@richmond.edu.