By Abby Clukey
In all the debate over Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, one often-overlooked example has lasted since 1893, and it sits mostly unnoticed by one of the most populated places on UVA Grounds.
“I tend to describe it as ‘hidden in plain sight,’” says history Professor Kirt von Daacke, of the looming statue in the Confederate cemetery bordered by the McCormick Road dorms. “Thousands of students walk by it every day, but it’s not really in our field of vision unless you know to look at it.”
The Confederate cemetery is part of the university graveyard and contains the remains of soldiers who died in the Charlottesville hospital during the Civil War. Presiding over these graves is a statue of a Confederate soldier, whose base reads, “Fate denied them victory but crowned them with glorious immortality.”
It’s a spot that isn’t often mentioned, yet one that marks itself in students’ memories. Fourth-year Nathan John says the statue jarred him when he first encountered it.
“Walking past that one day, I was like, ‘Where am I?’” John says. “Why is that something that’s acceptable? Why is it not better contextualized?”
A few feet outside the cemetery’s walls is an expanse of at least 67 graves belonging to former slaves and other African Americans in the area. Many of these graves are unmarked and were only discovered in 2012, after a proposed expansion of the university cemetery prompted an archaeological dig.
“When I was an undergraduate in the ’90s, they piled mulch back there and piles of dirt, and people tailgated back there,” von Daacke says. “So it had been completely erased from living memory long before I was a student here.”
Today, a plaque in what is now known as the enslaved laborers cemetery provides a brief history of the space. However, its existence is unmentioned in official pamphlets about the university cemetery, and some students say the site still isn’t visible enough, especially in its relation to the Confederate plots.
“You really don’t know that people are buried there until you read about it,” says first-year Juliana Callen. “And I think it’s really just tragic.”
Von Daacke says the Confederate monument has lasted so long on Grounds because of its marginal location. Though it wasn’t a focal point of the recent President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, he says it will become a more central topic of the new Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation.
“As we look at the post-1865 landscape, that will become part of the conversation, because so much of our story here in Charlottesville since August 11 and 12 has been focused on the Lost Cause monumental landscape,” says von Daacke. “More of the focus is on the statues downtown, but this is a story that includes UVA.”
The Confederate statue in the cemetery at UVA came courtesy of the Ladies Confederate Memorial Association in 1893.
Abby Clukey is managing editor of The Cavalier Daily.