MEMORIAL TO AFRICAN AMERICANS ENSLAVED
Location: College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA
Collaborators: Matthew Earnest (The Lunar Stratagem)
“Memory is not an instrument for surveying the past, but its theater. It is the medium of past experience, just as the earth is the medium in which dead cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.”
- Walter Benjamin, philosopher (1892-1940)
“The temple bell stops, but I can still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.”
- Matsuo Basho, poet (1644-1694)
In a prominent position adjacent to the Wren Building, a triangular walled garden invites entrance at two of its three corners. Inside, there is a large enclosure, apart and private, for gathering and contemplation. Two of the long walls feature niches in which bells of different sizes, connected by a common gear, can be rung separately or in chorus as part of a ritual or call to meeting. There is one bell for each of the enslaved African American men, women, and children who built and maintained the College of William & Mary between 1693 and the Civil War, and each of their names is featured on one of the bells.
The structure is brick trimmed with terracotta, echoing the surrounding historic campus buildings, and also providing a metaphor for the many individual elements, or people, required to make one lasting institution. Inside the tall walls and only sporadically glimpsed through the niches, a lush lawn and trees grow, and outside along the long south wall, there is a planting bed with plants native to West Africa:Aloe, Neem, and Lemongrass. A third blank wall completes the sense of enclosure.
One of the primary challenges for the Memorial is to give an identity to each individual, though their names may be the same and little may be known about them. We believe it is important that each bell is unique, and be designed by a different artist, with a unique timbre. When rung, a bell will speak with its own unique voice.With its construction materials, the garden rhymes with the other buildings of the historic campus, but its triangular shape interrupts it. From the way it juts into the landscape, to the oblique shadows it will cast at dusk, the garden is a unique, unavoidable, and deeply spiritual meeting place near the center of the historic campus.