Photo: "A Difficult, Yet Undeniable History"

Dublin Core


Photo: "A Difficult, Yet Undeniable History"


This artifact examines the impact that the enslaved men and women at Washington College in the 19th-century have on the 21st-century University built and worked upon by the labor and toil of the college's slaves.


“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In the area dedicated to the enslaved men and women of Washington College, a semi-circle with benches is placed directly across from the marker, an area with the purpose of reflection. The semi-circle, designed to avoid the implications of a straight and narrow path next to the plaque, features a change of materials from the W&L brick found on most walkways on campus. The lights are always on, their bulbs casting a yellow light in the evenings. If you are walking on the colonnade side, there is no direction—no sign or indication that you might happen upon this marker. On the library side, a black sign, not often found on campus reads “Historical Marker Acknowledging Enslaved People,” an arrow underneath inviting passersby to come across the marker.

The dashes under the “worth” column, the spaces without numbers, indicate that the corresponding slave has been assessed and deemed worthless, and therefore given freely. The worth never exceeds $500. This story was once the entire truth of a nation and though that truth is no longer the literal reality of our country, the message seeps through into the 21st-century. Adichie is right in her assessment of the effect of story-telling. We have received the gifts of these artifacts and we have gathered to tell these stories. But, it is up to our community to decide how we will carry these stories on. More importantly, now that these gifts are stored in our hearts, we must decide which tools we will bring forth to repair the pain that our legacy has left us.

The process of telling the slaves’ stories, of letting the names enter and exit our mouths, isn’t quick and easy, but ongoing. With hope that our natural inclination leads us to uncovering how their descendants are faring, each step we take on the university’s grounds should be filled with a deep appreciation, an inkling similar to that same power found in the words from oral histories now stored in our repository.


"A Difficult Yet Undeniable History"


“Photo: "A Difficult, Yet Undeniable History",” Black General, accessed May 19, 2024,