Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved, a memorial structure designed to recognize those men, women, and children, all enslaved, who built, operated, and maintained the historic campus of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, recently won Best in Class in the Brick Industry Association’s Bricks in Architecture Award competition. Pine Hall Brick Company’s Rumbled Full Range and Rumbled StormPave™ permeable pavers were used in its construction. Above photo courtesy of Baskervill ©Prakash Patel.

Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved, a sculpture on the campus of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA has won Best in Class in the Brick Industry Association’s Annual Bricks in Architecture competition.

The award, which won in the Higher Education category, recognizes architecture firm Baskervill, brick manufacturers Pine Hall Brick Company and Old Carolina, brick distributor Riverside Brick and Supply and contractor Wayne Young of Bearing Masonry.

Above photo by Stephen Salpukas, William & Mary.

A brick rememberance for the people who built America’s second oldest university

William & Mary was founded in 1693, making it the second oldest university in the United States after Harvard. The school benefitted from slave labor in several different ways. Historians discovered the names of more than 100 people owned by college employees, students, and the college itself. The actual number was likely much higher than that.

The three primary buildings on the college’s Ancient Campus, including the Brafferton, Wren Building and President’s House, were built and maintained in part by using enslaved labor. Slaves both made the bricks used in building the Wren Building and erected the building itself.

In 2009, the university’s Board of Visitors acknowledged that the university had owned and exploited slave labor from its founding until the Civil War and that it had failed to take a stand against segregation during the Jim Crow era.

With the Board’s support, the Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation was begun. The effort was named after Lemon, a slave who was owned by the college.

“The Lemon Project is a multifaceted and dynamic attempt to rectify wrongs perpetuated against African Americans by William & Mary through action or inaction,” wrote the Board of Visitors. Funded by the Office of the Provost, the project thus far has included a symposium on the past experiences of African Americans in the William & Mary community, along with an effort that led to the construction of the monument.

Above photo by Stephen Salpukas, William & Mary.

HEARTH: Memorial to the Enslaved takes shape through research, history, truth, and authenticity

In 2014, the Lemon Project’s director, Jody Allen, along with instructor Ed Pease, asked students to submit proposals for a possible memorial to the enslaved. Then, in 2018, the college launched an international competition to solicit ideas for the memorials. More than 80 entries were submitted.

In April 2019, the winning design was announced. Titled: Hearth, the project was designed by William Sendor, who graduated from William & Mary in 2011. According to a William & Mary press release, Sendor is a North Carolina-based architectural designer who entered the competition as a personal project

“When I heard about the memorial design competition, I knew that I had to participate,” Sendor said. “A project of this magnitude and this importance is a rare and incredible opportunity, to be able to contribute to telling the story of ­– and paying tribute to – the enslaved people is especially close to my heart being an alumnus of the College.”

In his research for the project, Sendor came across a book about institutional slavery in Virginia written by another William & Mary graduate, Jennifer Oast Ph.D. ’09.

While reading the chapter about William & Mary, Sendor said he was struck by her discussion of fire and its role in the lives of the enslaved at the university.

Earth born brick gave comfort to the afflicted

I was inspired by the idea of illumination,” he said. “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.”

To build the concept into a physical memorial, the university tapped Richmond-based architect Baskervill.

(We’ve written about Baskervill before.)

Above photo courtesy of Baskervill ©Prakash Patel.

One hundred ninety-eight engraved solid black granite blocks that identify the currently named, known, and unknown individuals enslaved by the university. More than 400 unengraved stones have been set aside to be marked as names are uncovered with further research and study.

The finished memorial is 20 feet high and 16 feet wide. It cost $2.9 million to build; the money came from private donations and contributions from the university’s Board of Visitors. Ground was broken for the monument in May 2021 and it was dedicated on May 7, 2022.

Burt Pinnock of Baskervill writes that the design evokes a brick fireplace, a symbol of both community and the center of domestic enslavement; its asymmetrical void meant to receive the community yet also embody the emptiness of slavery.

Bricks that were likely made by enslaved men, women and children from the reconstruction of the Wren Building after a 1705 fire, have been incorporated into the monument, as have 198 engraved solid black granite blocks that identify the currently named, known, and unknown individuals enslaved by the university. More than 400 unengraved stones have been set aside to be marked as names are uncovered with further research and study.

In addition, a  vessel that will hold a fire, and will be lit on special occasions to recognize those whom the university enslaved over the course of 172 years, has been completed and will be dedicated in May 2023.

The pattern created by the purposeful mixing of the granite and the brick together is inspired by cloth and art patterns of western Africa as a small way of restoring some generational identity to the souls memorialized, writes Pinnock.