In his remarks, President Jim Ryan reiterated the words of Isabella Gibbons, a former enslaved person owned by a UVA faculty member, that are etched in a timeline on the memorial’s inner circle: “Can we forget the crack of the whip, the cowhide, the whipping post, the auction block, the handcuffs, the spaniels, the iron collar, the negro-trader tearing the young child from its mother’s breast as a whelp from the lioness? Have we forgotten those horrible cruelties, hundreds of our race killed? No, we have not, nor ever will.”
Gibbons eventually became a teacher at the Jefferson School in Charlottesville, and the artist Eto Otitigbe designed the image of her eyes on the outer stone wall of the memorial. Ryan said, “It is fitting her words, and her eyes … impel us to greater understanding, empathy and justice.”
Before giving a brief history of the memorial, Ryan called it “an especially meaningful symbol of healing and connectedness” and thanked those who worked on it – the many students, alumni (including the UVA IDEA Fund), faculty, staff and community members. He also acknowledged the descendants with ties to those whose names, vocations or “memory marks” – horizontal lines, denoting workers whose names are as yet unknown – are engraved on the memorial’s inner wall.
“Your ancestors toiled, often anonymously, facing violence and harassment, and not under their own free will, to build the University of Virginia,” Ryan said. “It is to them that we owe our deepest gratitude. May this memorial bring to their families a measure of solace and a step toward spiritual repair.”