More than five years after Davidson College created a commission to examine its links to slavery, the school announced that it will erect a sculpture to “recognize the enslaved and exploited workers who labored on the college’s campus.”
The sculpture, called “With These Hands,” will be part of a memorial plaza, the schools said Thursday.
The sculpture, by Brooklyn, N.Y., artist Hank Willis Thomas, will feature two “work-worn” hands located among four campus buildings built by enslaved people in the mid-1800s. The architecture firm Perkins & Will, which is based in Chicago with an office in Charlotte, will help with the project.
Why it matters: Davidson joins a growing list of colleges and universities now wrestling with their ties to racism and slavery.
“We believe this space will create a reflective opportunity for generations across backgrounds to talk honestly about slavery and what a dehumanizing effect it had,” Davidson College President Doug Hicks said in a Youtube video.
In 2017, Davidson established the Commission on Race and Slavery, an initiative to examine the school’s ties to slavery.
The commission was headed by former Charlotte mayor and 1993 Davidson graduate Anthony Fox. It also includes students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and community members.
The commission worked with college archivists to uncover a number of key findings in the school’s history. Among these findings include the following:
- The university’s first president, Robert Hall Morrison, owned slaves. All college presidents through Drury Lacy (1855–1860) owned slaves, as did many faculty members.
- During the Jim Crow era, Black people worked for the college in low-paying positions to maintain the buildings and grounds and provide domestic services, but the college did not admit Black students or hire Black faculty.
- Davidson chose not to admit Black students despite the Supreme Court’s ruling for public school integration in 1959. It issued a statement saying, “the admission of Negroes is not in the best interest of the College, of the Church, of the Students, or of any Negroes who at this juncture would be admitted as students.”
- In the summer of 1959, crosses were burned on campus, in response to the interaction of a white international student attending a workshop with a local Black resident.
Along with the memorial, the commission’s initiative also includes new courses taught at the school, scholarships, educational exhibitions and public events, among other community engagement activities to discuss slavery.
This story has been updated to include background information on the research and efforts of Davidson’s Commission on Race and Slavery.