Saturday, May 1, 2010

Slave Memorial at Mount Vernon

In February of 1982, supervisor James Scott read an article in the Washington Post written by Dorothy Gilliam regarding the lack of a memorial to the slaves of Mount Vernon. Scott called Frank Matthews of the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP. Scott informed Matthews that the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, who operates the restoration and upkeep of the Mount Vernon estate, was scheduled to request tax-exempt status for two restaurants on the grounds from the county board of supervisors.

Matthews attended this meeting and objected on the grounds that it violated the spirit and letter of the county's human rights ordinance. In addition, the ladies had not properly memorialized a burial site for the slaves.

Soon after Matthews, joined by the local black community, formed a committee to meet with the Ladies Association. A decision was agreed upon to build the memorial and a design was commissioned. Harry G. Robinson of the Howard University School of Architecture was contracted. A team consisting of ten students led by David Edge completed the design. It shows a tree-lined walk with a cut leaf column in the center. Three circles surround the column, symbolizing faith, hope, and love. Edge explained, "The source of the slaves' strength was hope, faith, and love. The column, known for its strength, represents the slaves' strength".


The Slave Memorial
The realization of the slave memorial at Mount Vernon established a precedence that opened the door towards greater cooperation. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has implemented an outreach program involving local schools; they hired Gladys Quander Tancil, the only black descendent and member of one of the oldest black families descending from the slaves at Mount Vernon. They now produce an educational packet as well as have special rates for local school children during October.

The support of Mrs. Francis Guy of Richmond, the liaison for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and the late John Castellanti will always be appreciated because the task was not an easy one. Thirteen years ago, it was an awesome occasion to pay homage to those forgotten people and now, we can say that those forgotten people brought us, black and white, together.

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