The Collegian
Friday, February 23, 2024

UR to break ground on burial ground this month

Baskervill's design plans for the burial ground entrance. Courtesy of the University of Richmond.
Baskervill's design plans for the burial ground entrance. Courtesy of the University of Richmond.

The University of Richmond’s Burial Ground Memorial Committee announced at a Feb. 2 meeting that construction on the burial ground memorial is set to begin in February after four years of committee planning.

Keith McIntosh, the co-chair of the committee, explained the site’s shameful history. The committee was created to decide the appropriate means of recognition of formerly enslaved persons who had been buried all over campus. The bodies were first uncovered in 1912 during road renovations and again in 1947 after being moved or paved over, according to the Burying Ground Memorialization Committee Final Report.

“A site on the southeastern side of Westhampton Lake was once a burying ground for those enslaved by former land owners and the remains were discovered and desecrated by the university multiple times in the 20th century,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh then recognized Burt Pinnock, a principal and board chairman of Baskervill, as the designer of the proposed memorial. Pinnock specialized in creating memorials specifically for African American burial grounds in the Richmond area. He’s currently working on a burial ground in the Shockoe Slip area. He said his work is meant to “create an honored final resting place for the people that deserve it.”

Elizabeth Baughan, associate professor of classics and archeology, served as an advisor on the Burying Ground Memorialization Committee.

“I appreciated how thoughtful community engagement was integral to every stage of the design process,” Baughan said. “As an archaeologist, I also appreciate how archaeological evidence and funerary symbolism have informed the final design.”

Throughout the UR project, Pinnock has spoken to descendants of the enslaved peoples known to be buried there to create images of them that will be a part of the memorial itself. The planned images were shown in a two-minute video mock-up of the memorial created by Baskervill. 

Tentatively, the portrait will show three faces: a woman, a man and a child who appear to be turning to look into the cemetery and are scaled larger than life size. They will be sand-blasted into the marble surrounding the front of the cemetery. 

Pinnock said the finalized plans will also include a large granite memorial, fences, a gate, informational plaques, a water feature and an oak tree propagated from the one growing on the current burial site. The memorial will act as a cemetery where people on campus can learn about and pay respects to those lost.

Pinnock said the images will be identifiably people of color. He has been collecting photos from the descendants of the enslaved people, digitizing them and correlating their features to make sure the images cast in the stone are representative of those buried, he said. 

“There is a moment when you are touched by the fact that [the burial ground] is no longer abstract,” Pinnock said. “It is no longer an article in a newspaper. It is no longer a concept, but it is real.” 

Plans to break ground on the memorial begin this month, and construction will continue for another year or more. When completed, the memorial will have a large dedication and a new website. 

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“This has been our gold standard,” Pinnock said. 

The Burial Ground Memorial Committee will post and email construction updates and mock-up images, so the community can follow progress on the four-year-long proposal process. 

Contact writer Lucille Hancock at lucille.hancock@richmond.edu

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