UVa Community Holds Vigil to Honor African-American Cemetery
October 16, 2014
The University of Virginia led a candlelight vigil to the site of a long-forgotten African-American cemetery Tuesday night, as part of an ongoing symposium confronting the legacy of slavery at U.Va.
The gravesite contains the remains of 67 people, mostly slaves, who were buried there before the Civil War. The graves were discovered in 2012 when the university was considering expanding its existing cemetery. The bodies were buried just outside the cemetery walls without place markers and without names.
"These were people who were essentially dismissed," said Marcus Martin, the Co-Chair of the university's new President's Commission on Slavery and the University. "They were forgotten. We feel that certainly they were not forgotten by God. We stand on their shoulders. The institution was built by these individuals."
So to honor those individuals, hundreds of people walked slowly back into the cemetery Tuesday night. The site is now fully restored and fenced in as part of the U.Va. cemetery.
"It's been preserved," Martin said. "It's a beautiful site now."
At the cemetery, a choir sang in the darkness, lit only by the hundreds of candles held by the visitors. Lighting the path along the way to the cemetery was the current generation of African-Americans, who are at the university not as slaves, but as students.
"I felt like I was definitely a part of something bigger than myself," said usher Jahvonta Mason, a member the university's Black Male Initiative. "There's also the history of those who built the buildings stone by stone by stone. That cannot go unacknowledged. That story must be told alongside the other stories the university is so proud of telling."
The symposium continues on Friday with lectures and films about the legacy of slavery.
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