A $50,000 donation from the George Mason University Foundation has helped fund the construction of the Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial, which recently opened as the centerpiece of the redesigned Wilkins Plaza at the heart of Mason’s Fairfax Campus. The memorial will be dedicated during a public ceremony on April 4, 2022.
The idea of remembering and publicly honoring the people enslaved by the university’s 18th-century namesake was sparked by student research in 2016. Mason students, mentored by faculty from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the University Libraries, delved into the little-known legacy of George Mason IV. Their research became the Enslaved Children of George Mason Project, which revealed the lives of the enslaved people who lived and worked at Gunston Hall, Mason’s home in Northern Virginia.
From that project grew the idea of a permanent memorial on campus to serve as the focal point of dialogue around how the university addresses its identity as it relates to a complicated patriot.
The memorial includes panels describing the lives of two enslaved at Gunston Hall: Penny, who Mason gifted to his daughter, and James, Mason’s personal attendant. There is also a fountain lined with a pattern of stones that symbolizes an African custom practiced at Gunston Hall.
“The memorial is an essential part of how George Mason’s namesake university tells its story. We cannot ignore the complicated fact that this man helped establish the core American principles of liberty, fairness, and equity while being a slaveholder,” said George Mason University Foundation Board of Trustees Chair Terri Cofer Beirne. “The Foundation is thrilled to support this perpetual memorial envisioned by Mason students and faculty that reminds us of our past and challenges us all to keep working on creating the university of the future.”
The dedication of the Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial takes place Monday, April 4, 2022, at 1:30 p.m., at Wilkins Plaza on the Fairfax Campus. The event is open to the public, and all are encouraged to attend.
—Taylor Howell, March 28, 2022