Evan Cantwell / George Mason UniversityReckoning with its past, George Mason University unveiled this week the Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial. The university's namesake, George Mason IV, enslaved more than 100 people, a history that prompted the memorial's creation.
"In many ways, this memorial is an invitation for people to come and sit in the messiness, the complexity of the past and be comfortable with what makes us uncomfortable," said Dr. Wendi Manuel-Scott, professor of integrative studies and history at George Mason University in a Washington Post article.
Manuel Scott was one of the faculty members whose research contributed to the memorial, which spans about 300 feet. It includes a fountain and the silhouettes of a few people whom Mason enslaved. In addition, the memorial features a statue of Mason, who paradoxically contributed to the U.S. Constitution.
"George Mason was a great patriot, but today is not the day to mythologize him," said Dr. Gregory Washington, president of the university. "He was an enslaver of people, but we are not here today to cancel him. We are here to contemplate how a person could believe so passionately in the tenets of the Bill of Rights while simultaneously holding so many souls in enslavement. And we are here to offer this contradiction as a teaching moment to the community and to the nation."
In 2017, five George Mason students sought to learn more about the institution's namesake. With the support of faculty, students found the names of the people forced to work for Mason. That work sparked the vision for this memorial.
"We focused on deepening and expanding our community's understanding of George Mason and the people he enslaved," said Kye Farrow, one of the students who was part of the research project and graduated in 2019. "This memorial fulfills the charge of our project. It is designed to place the voices of those enslaved in dialogue with the traditional voice of George Mason."