Commemorations often quickly revolve around the design of a monument, the style of a sculpture or inscribed words. The committee began with the basics of understanding those whom the quorum wishes to remember – the enslaved and others whose labor has been exploited for the quorum.
At their first meeting, the group welcomed Castella Conner, Head of application processing at the Office for Admission & Financial Aid. Conner’s parents, brother, and aunt – Conner’s namesake – all worked for college with 150 years of service among them. She is a trustee in one of the four largest, predominantly black churches in Davidson and emphasized that in all four congregations there were descendants of enslaved people who worked on campus.
Having a memorial service on campus – maybe a statue – might “make a better feeling,” Conner told the group, “but be aware that it can cause pain for the descendants of the enslaved. It has to be in context. It can’t be the only thing you’re doing. ”
The committee started digging into the files. In February, staff from the Archives and Special Collections took the group through the college’s history of slavery, from just before the college was founded in 1837 to emancipation. The archivists offered documents, videos, database websites and expert knowledge.
“We had to gather information and create understanding,” said Trustee and Committee Chairman Virgil Fludd, “not only about enslaved people and what happened at Davidson, but also about how a memorial works best and helps others to learn.”
The members of the committee gathered a trio of experts to better understand memorials of all kinds in all locations. The group was led by Dr. Hilary Green, then Vann professor for ethics in society, and included Cort Savage, professor of arts and chairman of the arts department; and Lia Newman, director and curator of Van Every / Smith Galleries. The group explored memorials around the world that recognize a range of tragedies and atrocities, from war to the Holocaust. You finished the review by looking at the Racial and Slavery Memorial Services in the United States.
The people, the records, and the successful efforts made on every continent of the world guided the work of the committee, providing qualities and priorities that stood out as essential
- To use the college’s archives to recognize individuals and family heritage.
- Acknowledge the atrocities, injustices, omissions and blind spots of the past while envisioning a new future.
- Inspire empathy and focus on perseverance, triumph, and the valuable contributions of those thought.
- Add an interactive element and activate multiple senses.
- Acknowledge what we do not know and allow new research and discovery.
- Focus on the roles and history of Davidson College and the City of Davidson in the institution of slavery.
- Interweave artwork, landscaping, and function so that each one attracts a unique response and the location can also serve as part of the setting for campus meetings or community events.
The committee wants alumni, campus community, Davidson Ward, and others to participate as the group continues to gather information, insight, and share lessons. They plan a variety of opportunities, both in person and virtual, for members of these communities to join them.
The group is now exploring the Davidson campus itself, hoping to make it easier to choose a location. They recognize the need to place the memorial in a highly visible location, close to the academic core of the campus and close to historically significant buildings. The site should also be easily accessible to members of the Davidson community. As part of this investigation, committee members will visit campus in July and meet with campus planners.
Similarly, before artists or contractors can be drawn up, the committee needs to narrow the universe of potential partners and plans to publicly invite interested artists and design teams to submit presentations on why they are qualified for the project.
The committee is planning a virtual forum in September to allow parishioners to learn about the work of the committee and the process they want to follow to create a memorial project on the Davidson campus.
Later, a jury made up of committee members and representatives from the campus and the local community will determine the finalists. A list of three finalists will be the. recommended Campus planning and utilization committee and board of trustees for approval in early 2022.
Finalists will visit the campus as early as spring 2022 to talk to alumni, Archivists, historians, students, campus planners, faculty, and community members to learn more about Davidson’s history, the site, and the capabilities of the memorial room. The committee expects the final selection of the winning artist or creative team to be announced in late summer 2022.
The schedule for installing the new memorial will depend on the scope of the winning design and successful fundraising for the project.