Student Turns Dream of Memorial Benches Into Concrete Reality

September 23, 2022
A curved concrete bench engraved with "Louise S. Hunter, School of Education and Human Development, Class of 1953"

Louise Stokes Hunter was the first Black woman to graduate from the School of Education and Human Development, as well as the University, in 1953. (Photos by Dan Addison, University Communications)

To change the lives of future students – that is the lofty goal of University of Virginia fourth-year student Sanjeev Kumar’s project to install memorial benches around Grounds dedicated to groundbreaking faculty, staff and students.

“What I didn’t realize is how it might impact the families of the honorees,” he said.

Kumar, who was one of three recipients this spring of John T. Casteen III Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Leadership Awards, recently attended the first of seven dedications to celebrate the reality of his dream, the Memorial Benches Initiative.

Sanjeev Kumar stands in front of a curved concrete bench and looks at the camera
Commerce School student Sanjeev Kumar’s project has installed memorial benches around Grounds, including this one outside Robertson Hall dedicated to Charlotte Scott, a professor of commerce and education.

The smooth, concrete benches, which bear names of individuals and one group, reside in niches at most of the earliest schools that make up UVA, including the College at Wise.

A Sept. 2 dedication honored Charlotte H. Scott, the first African American woman hired as a tenured professor at UVA. Scott, who died in 2010, was a professor of commerce and education from 1976 to 1998 and a senior fellow at the Darden Business School’s Tayloe Murphy Center. Her bench is located near the northwest entrance to Robertson Hall, behind the Lawn.

“It’s very satisfying and moving,” Scott’s daughter, Leslie Hunter, said. “I’m glad she’s receiving this recognition.”

The other honorees who will be celebrated in the future include:

  • Louise Stokes Hunter, who, in 1953, became the first Black woman to graduate from the School of Education and Human Development, as well as the University. There are two benches with her name, located at each end of the courtyard between Bavaro and Ridley halls.
  • Karenne Wood, a member of the Monacan Indian tribe (on whose ancestral land UVA stands), who was the first Monacan to earn a doctorate at the University, in anthropology in 2016. Her bench is located on the south side of New Cabell Hall, heading to the South Lawn.
  • Edward W. Barnett and Audrey Spencer Horsley, who became the first Black male and female students to graduate from the School of Architecture, in 1972 and 1975, respectively. The school has created two scholarships in their names. They each have a bench on the second-floor terrace outside Campbell Hall.
  • Wesley Harris, the second African American student to live on the Lawn, who was instrumental in getting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at UVA in March 1963. He graduated from the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1964. His bench is in the interior south central courtyard of Thornton Hall.
  • Graduates of the Jackson P. Burley Practical Nursing Program, who attended a segregated education program for Black students that the Nursing School oversaw from 1951 to ’66. In a special ceremony in 2019, they received certificates and were recognized as alumni. Their bench is located outside on the west-side terrace of McLeod Hall.
  • Sandra Jones, who worked at UVA’s College at Wise for 22 years and served on a range of local and college committees and organizations, especially those highlighting Black history. Jones, also a pastor for 20 years, still participates in the College’s Black History Committee although she is retired. The bench honoring her on the Wise campus is near the Plaza by the Lake.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications