On Saturday, St. Mary’s College of Maryland unveiled a memorial to honor the enslaved people of southern Maryland.
The college held a virtual dedication of the memorial, entitled From Absence to Presence: the Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland. The ceremony at St. Mary’s was the culmination of a journey that began in 2016 with an archaeological discovery on the campus grounds.
In the summer of 2016, when the college was preparing to build a new stadium, state regulations dictated the school undergo an archaeological dig before breaking ground on construction. The excavation uncovered artifacts associated with enslaved people’s living quarters.
College President Tuajuanda C. Jordan understood the significance of the findings. She established a focus group of students, faculty, and community members to decide on an appropriate way to honor the enslaved people who lived in St Mary’s City between 1750 and 1815.
The Legacy of Slavery
The memorial tells the story of “resilience, persistence, and creative problem-solving that defined the lives” of enslaved peoples, hoping to lend a voice to those who’ve been silenced.
Installation of the memorial began last month while the virtual dedication last week was held in the presence of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Congressman Steny Hoyer.
President Jordan stated her hope that the memorial “will help people think about how we treat each other in this country, how we talk about our history and realize that we’ve lost major chapters in what we are about as people.”
The virtual commemoration also included student reflections on their ideas of freedom as well as a reading by poet Quenton Baker.
The memorial cost around $600,000, most of which was funded by the state with support from private donors and foundations.
Last year, Georgetown University students proposed creating a fund to benefit the descendants of 272 slaves who were sold in 1838 to pay off the university’s debts. In a similar move, the University of Virginia announced earlier this year that it is naming buildings after enslaved people who built the campus.