Apr 3, 2023 - Culture

Davidson College addresses its ties to slavery with new memorial

Davidson College memorial

Competition concept rendering by Perkins&Will in collaboration with Hank Willis Thomas. Rendering: Courtesy of Davidson College

Davidson College will create a memorial recognizing the enslaved workers who helped build the campus.

Why it matters: Davidson is one of many institutions nationwide grappling with its ties to slavery.

  • The school said it “can never fully atone for that past,” but certain public efforts like building this memorial is a step toward reconciling with it.

Details: A sculpture, called “With These Hands: A Memorial to the Enslaved and Exploited,” was designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas and architecture firm Perkins&Will.

  • The memorial will sit between four buildings on campus that were constructed using bricks that enslaved people made in the 1800s.
  • The bronze sculpture will feature two work-worn hands. It will be visible from Main Street.

What they’re saying: “I think it’s almost a call to action for cities and colleges and universities and libraries across the country to really acknowledge the lives that were sacrificed and exploited so that we get to have the luxuries that we do today,” Thomas said in a statement.

Virgil Fludd, a South Carolina native, was among the few Black students attending Davidson in the 1970s. Today, he’s a Davidson College trustee and commemoration committee chair. He led the two-year selection process that resulted in “With These Hands.” 

  • He says it’s important to give credit to those who built the institution, as there are buildings, both at Davidson and around the country, that are named for people who did far less.

Flashback: Former Davidson president Carol Quillen apologized for the college’s role in perpetuating slavery and systemic racism in 2020.

Zoom out: Universities across the country and abroad are acknowledging their ties to slavery, from Harvard University to the University of Cambridge, as Axios has reported.

What’s next: The timeline for completion of “With These Hands” is two years, per Davidson.

Davidson College memorial
Competition concept rendering by Perkins&Will in collaboration with Hank Willis Thomas. Rendering: Courtesy of Davidson College
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