Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia

The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers (MEL) at the University of Virginia (UVA) honors the lives, labor, and perseverance of an estimated 4,000 enslaved African Americans who built and sustained daily life at UVA between its founding in 1817 by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and a slave holder, and their emancipation in 1865.

In 2010, UVA students initiated an effort to critically examine the institution’s history and recognize the lives of the enslaved laborers. This activism, in conjunction with several subsequent academic research projects, prompted the University of Virginia to commission the memorial in 2016. The design emerged as a result of an intensive community engagement process with members of the UVA community, the Charlottesville community, and descendants of the enslaved.

The Memorial’s commemorative forms and historical inscriptions acknowledge the dualities of enslavement—the pain of bondage and hope for the future. It celebrates the community that nurtured resistance and resilience to the dehumanizing violence that shaped the everyday experience of enslaved life at UVA. In doing so, the Memorial creates a vital public place to understand, learn, and remember their contribution to the University.

The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers was designed by Höweler + Yoon Architecture in collaboration with historian and designer Dr. Mabel O. Wilson (Studio&), Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, community facilitator Dr. Frank Dukes, and artist Eto Otitigbe.

The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers represents the culmination of years of community engagement by the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University and by the Memorial design team.  Many valued partners were critical to the commission’s work and deeply informed the memorial’s design.

Project Credits:

University of Virginia:

UVA President’s Commission on Slavery and the University (PCSU)

UVA Offices of the Architect and Facilities Management

University Architect Alice Raucher, University Landscape Architect Mary Hughes

Project Manager – Sarita Herman

Construction Administration Manager – Ted Nelson

UVA Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Design Team:

Höweler + Yoon Architecture LLP- Designer and Architect

Meejin Yoon, Eric Höweler,  Namjoo Kim, Caroline Shannon, Anna Kaertner, Alex Yueyan Li, Caleb Hawkins, Boris Angelov, Julia Robert

Dr. Mabel O. Wilson, Studio &, Cultural Historian and Designer

Mabel O. Wilson, Marlisa Wise

Dr. Frank Dukes – Community Engagement Facilitator

Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect – Gregg Bleam, Aaron Bridgers

Eto Otitigbe – Artist

Common Name – Typography Design


Silman, Structural Engineering

Nitsch, Civil Engineering


George Sexton Associates – Lighting Designer

DEW – Water Feature Consultant