Grave discovery: Dig uncovers forgotten UVA resting place

As novelist William Kennedy's main character in his novel Ironweed–- cemetery worker Francis Phelan–- observes, "the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods."

Sadly, the recent discovery of a gravesite just outside the walls of the University of Virginia Cemetery reveals that some dead weren't even afforded a neighborhood in the afterlife.

At a Friday afternoon press conference, on the far north side of the over 180-year old resting place of renowned faculty, Civil War casualties (and even two beloved dogs, one a UVA mascot, buried just beyond the walls), UVA officials revealed that 30 unidentified graves have been found on the site of a proposed Cemetery expansion.

"In old times," according to a read-aloud excerpt from a 1898 UVA Alumni Bulletin, "the University servants were buried on the north side of the cemetery, just outside the wall."

"These were likely slaves or free blacks connected to the University," said UVA vice provost for faculty recruitment and retention Gertrude Fraser, who was joined at the November 2 event by archeologist Benjamin Ford and other University officials.

In the past, there may have been an inclination to "strip the site bare," said Fraser, but the University has recently made efforts to acknowledge the use of slave labor. These include an official apology in 2007, a memorial plaque on a corner of the Rotunda, and an outdoor exhibit that is a permanent part of the South Lawn project. Most recently, over the past summer break, a long-time bell-ringer, Henry Martin, became the first once-enslaved UVA worker memorialized by name.

"We've come a long way," said Fraser.

According to Ford, nine of the 30 discovered graves were for children, leading him to contend that family groups were buried there. Unfortunately, there were no names or inscriptions on the headstones, most of them crude slabs of rock, although two found were made of marble. Ford also suspects the grave site was used for a long period of time, as many of the graves are on top of each other. Still more of the site needs to be excavated, said Ford, and a full report on the findings should be available in December.

"This area was lost in memory and time," said Ford.

As for the Cemetery expansion plans, UVA chief facilities officer Donald Sundgren said that they would continue, but not on the discovered cemetery site.

"This site will remain untouched," said Sundgren, "and memorialized."


"(and even a dog that was a beloved UVA mascot),"
Two dogs, actually, and they're not buried in the cemetery. Seal and Beta are buried across the street from the north side of the cemetery under a large fir tree.

Poor leadership. Poor oversight. Dragas must resign. What is she doing?

Gertrude Fraser, says "we have come a long way," referring to the contrast between contemporary Black people and those human beings buried in the rediscovered graves, probably Black workers, Slaves, their families. These ancestors were forgotten, with no memorials or headstone to remember them. How little the University cared for this aspect of its history to not even mark the graves of those who gave their lives to the work of the University? Isn't the University all about history and legacy and other such things concerning posterity? The University still hasn't come to terms with this aspect of its problematic history especially as it concerns its glorified founder and his slavery legacy. By the way, the total number of Slaves at the University of Virginia should be added to the 600+ Slaves of Monticello if we want an accurate accounting of Jefferson's slavery legacy.
Fraser's quote, that we've "come a long way," doesn't begin to address the current state of affairs for minorities at UVA. The institution's monumental architecture has a few token remembrances of non-white history, it is actually embarrassing. That is not coming "a long way" but it is a start, a beginning that has been a long time in coming but it is just a glimpse. We need to ask hard questions of our institution. How many students of color live in the coveted Greek mansions just north of the historic Academical Village? Are any of those mansions devoted to minority fraternities or sororities? How many have lived around the Lawn? What kind of space belongs to the students, faculty and staff who are minorities? What about the curriculum and the structure of the academic departments? Does UVA offer PhDs in African American or Native American studies or other diverse American studies? How many tenured minority faculty members at UVA and how do we compare to our peer institutions? Ms. Fraser, please don't say we've come a long way. At UVA we are very far away from where we need to be.

Any institution that has maintained the highest black student graduation rate of the top 25 state chartered schools for 18 years in a row is obviously a horrible, horrible place.

Oh yeah, and 10 secs googling would tell you there's a minor, major, distinguished studies major, and pre and post doctoral fellowship programs in African-American studies. FYI, there's tons of minorities in the Greek system. There are black, latino, and asian fraternities/sororities. But even if there weren't, UVA doesn't decide that, they are organized by students. Nor does UVA decide who gets to have a house. Fraternity houses are owned by the organizations and aren't UVA's property.

Personally, I never felt the Greek system was very important to me, though it is a big part of the stereotypical view of college. These days, 70% of students aren't in a fraternity or sorority.

Another angry minority. Prejudice will never end until the other end ends it.

Like a good argument with your spouse, it seems like all this wrangling is fighting for common ground as opposed to causing deeper division.
We are the ones called to be heroic, we all, who are still paying for the sins of someones fathers and mothers, can choose love, forgiveness, restoration, justice.
We've unearthed yet another injustice, finger pointing just perpetuates the lie that caused it.
Only forgiveness invites justice.
Awesome to be alive and called to a generation required of such courage.

I would like to know more about the slaves that were owned by the University. Who purchased them? Where did they purchase them? How much was paid? What were their names, and what work did they perform? Who supervised them? Where and how did they live? When was the last University slave purchased, and when were they freed? Did any of them continue to work at UVA as free men and women?

It is premature to ask for or bestow forgiveness without first knowing all of the circumstances, all of the facts of these human beings who were purchased and tasked. There must a graduate history student or two who would be interested in researching, documenting, and giving context to these men and women.


That would be nice, but given the fact that the lives of slaves were so poorly document, perhaps deliberately not documented--here we have a grave site discovered for the first time in 2012--that could be a difficult task.

As the truth emerges at UVA there will be some who regard what has happened at UVA to Blacks and other minorities to be a source of outrage. I think this is something that others should respect; let people be angry about the fact that UVA cared so little for the workers and Slaves of UVA that they didn't even record their burials or mark their graves? Yet the graves of the white folks have been given special monuments and a protected status? That is outrageous and immoral. What do the historians at UVA to say about this seeming aversion to history that UVA has demonstrated?

Now some would say that UVA is an oasis of equality and opportunity for African-American or minority students and scholars today and in their defense it is rather easy to cherry pick a few seemingly wonderful statistics and then proclaim that it is so. However, there are others who consider UVA a terrible place for minority scholars to work. Some like Gertrude Fraser says we've "come a long way." Others say we are very far away from where we need to be. What is needed is an independent analysis of UVA's treatment of minority scholars and students in a comparative context. For some reason UVA has refused to undertake a serious study of such things. This is because UVA has often displayed a minimalist approach to supporting minority scholars and communities. The administration has made it exceedingly difficult to improve the institution so that it would appreciate a broader intellectual perspective. Furthermore, the administration members whose job it is to diversity the university operate on an ad hoc basis, and they don't have professional plans to accomplish what they are paid to do so there is little or no accountability and the administration appears to prefer that the measurable goals to attain comprehensive diversity remain vague. So what we have at UVA is that minorities have just a little space to use, a few tenured faculty positions, a few administrative positions, and a small assortment of courses and degree offerings, especially when compared to UVA's peer institutions. This inequality is especially evident when compared to other parts of UVA that operate in a realm of decadence.
Sometime the big picture is brightly illuminated by the emergence of the formerly invisible, in this case it is the emergence of the forgotten graves that UVA leaders intended not to be remembered. Now that the lives of these human beings who gave their lives laboring at UVA have come to light we ought to take time to reflect upon what they endured from Mr. Jefferson's University and act so that their lives were not as meaningless as UVA believed they were.

Don't be so quick to say that these are the graves of African Americans unless testing is done. I have done research into many families in Charlottesville and Albemarle and explored the burial areas in Charlottesville and Albemarle. Poor whites who were workers on farms and other places were just as likely to have an unmarked stone marker. There are rosters of slaves owned and other means to give you some idea who this might be.

How many white people can say that they know exactly where their great ,great, great great grandparents are buried? especially if they were so poor that they could not afford a cemetery plot.

They could be slaves or they could be freed blacks, or they could be white indentured servants or white imigrants that did the work that slaves used to do.

Blacks got a bad deal in america and paid a high price for it yet proabably 50% of the black population in africa would trade places with any american, even the whites in appilachia living off the land.

If you compare the progress of blacks since the 1964 civil rights act their lot has improved faster than any other group in all categories including jobs, housing, college access, public funding receipts, social programs, and even business growth. Interacial marriage is commonplace even in the south.

The only reason to try and guilt a white person in 2012 for the sins of someone elses father in 1812 is because it means you do not have to look into the mirror and see your own shortcomings.

Gang beatings (and killlings) of whites go on in this country every week and are ignored by the press the same as lynchings were ignored by the press 100 years ago. Just because blacks use sticks, knives, guns and boots instead of a rope does not mean it does not meet the definition of a lynching.. it is a group of people making an excuse to attack someone of a different race without good reason....

Get over yourself globe... put your energy into proving your worth DESPITE prejudices like every other race religion and ethnicity has. If you want to see some abused people look at the way the chinese immigrants were treated . There are thousands buried in shallow graves along the railroads throughout the west.

The only thing holding blacks back in America is the constant harping about how everbody is against them.and the adult blacks who won't stop passing the lies that all whites hate blacks down to their children.

One important element regarding the proper protocols UVA should employ to address the recent discovery is that the University of Virginia and Monticello have been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. How does UVA incorporate the African-American legacy into the way it expresses its World Heritage Site status? Also, please see this link to the African Burial Ground National Monument -- Something along these lines could be established as a proper memorial in regards to the UVA's burial ground for workers and Slaves.

Here is another document that describes the African Burial Ground National Monument:

I believe it is time for UVA to express a more balanced view of its history. The recent discovery of the UVA worker and Slave burial ground, also recent scholarship regarding Jefferson (Henry Wiencek's Master of the Mountain) lend support to the need for a more honest expression of UVA's legacy regarding African Americans and other minorities.

Hindsight...hindsight... there is a term for judging the past using the standards of the present. The county (and probably the entire state) is littered with little forgotten cemeteries that used plain unmarked stones. Lots of them are unknowns...people of all ancestries...that's how they did it back then...inside a wall, outside a wall, along a roadside..behind a building..... whatever worked.... we should pause to balance the chips on all our shoulders before we leap into these vitriolic political arguments...

"that's how they did it back then" says amigo1, well, except for the others in the marked cemetery who are right next to the forgotten ones, they were chosen to be remembered and memorialized. Plus, as I stated above, UVA is a World Heritage Site, it is also a university, we can do better now.

Part of UVA is a world heritage site, not all of it.

@globe: You missed the point. Of course the black slaves and servants were treated like they didn't matter in death, just like they mattered little in life beyond whatever labor could be extracted. And that's a horrible thing that we shouldn't forget. But there's lots of white folks that never rated getting an inscribed stone, much less a plot inside the wall either; they're in fields all over here. There was plenty of ill-treatment to go around. Read your W.E.B Dubois; he had a very insightful and fair view of rough life the have-nots of both races faced.

Dolemite is correct that there are anonymous forgotten grave sites all around Virginia, here is our chance to properly address that issue at UVA for we have a teachable moment here in this discovery.
Whaambulance says that just a part of UVA is a World Heritage Site, true, that is the point, how long are we going to sit by and let Jefferson's triumphalists define our heritage? It is time a more inclusive approach.

It's easy to judge those in the past. 50 years from now people will be amazed we were spending non-tracable cash, anonymous on the Internet, and manually driving vehicles down the road at 70 MPH.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to move the wall to include the graves of these people who have been so conspicuously excluded, in life and in death, for 180 years.

Prof Gessner Harrison bought "Thornton" in 1841 at the sale of Sarah Michie's slaves. (Louisa Chancery # 1891-028 on line). George Carr Esq. of town bought Chapman and his mother Jinney. A different person bought "Waynesboro". Waynesboro is an unusual name there was one person of that name, Waynesboro Jackson, who married post civil war in Alb. naming his parents Toby & Jinney Jackson on his marriage license. There was also a Chapman Jackson who married post civil war in Alb. who named his parents as Toby & Jinney. So Jackson is the surname of some of the slaves at the Michie sale, could Thornton be the same surname. There is a Thornton Jackson whose wife is "Cassandra" in the 1870 census. Gayle Shulman's "Slaves at UVa" on line notes that Prof. Gessner Harrison owned a person called "Cassandra". Thus I can say that the slave "Thornton" bought by Prof Harrison in 1841 was Thornton Jackson and he married another slave of Prof. Harrison, "Cassandra" and they were post living post civil war in 1870 where they show up in the census. Now I can't prove either are buried in this cemetery but I can at least put a name and surname on Thornton Jackson and his wife Cassandra owned by Prof. Gessner Harrison. Its not easy to figure out these things after everyone is dec'd but sometimes it is.