A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Memorializing George Mason’s Complex Legacy

By Preston Williams on June 27, 2019


When the heart of the university’s Fairfax Campus is dramatically remade two years from now, a thought-provoking new memorial will be at its center.

The Enslaved People of George Mason memorial, to be located on Wilkins Plaza near the statue of George Mason IV himself, will provide a more complete account of the complicated legacy of Mason, a founding father who championed individual freedom while also owning slaves.

The memorial, scheduled to be completed in 2021, will honor two of the more than 100 people enslaved at Mason’s home of Gunston Hall—a 10-year-old girl named Penny and Mason’s manservant, James. The memorial is designed to place the hidden voices of the enslaved in dialogue with the traditional voice of George Mason, while creating a space for students and others to reflect and share their own voices.

“The three elements provide a space for us to think about the past, the present, and what it means to engage in difficult dialogue,” says Mason history and School of Integrative Studies professor Wendi Manuel-Scott, co-director of the Enslaved People of George Mason project. “Our intention here is to give visitors an opportunity to see the fullness of George Mason, the enslaved laborers he held, and their contributions to who we are as a nation.”

In addition, four quotes will be added around the bottom of the George Mason statue to convey his conflicted role in American history.

Wilkins Plaza is an apt home for the memorial and the Mason statue—the late Robinson Professor Roger Wilkins was a civil rights leader known for his insightful writing and speaking about the history of race in America. A fountain that will also be part of the memorial will be embedded with a quill and a Wilkins quote: “We have no hope of solving our problems without harnessing the diversity, the energy, and the creativity of all our people.”

Manuel-Scott and her colleagues have launched a campaign to raise up to $500,000 in private contributions to build the memorial. View renderings of the memorial design, and learn how you can contribute at giving.gmu.edu/enslaved_people_memorial_fund.


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