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Slavery and Public Memory

The University of Virginia and its Commission on Slavery teamed up with the Slave Dwelling Project to organize a symposium called “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory and the Built Landscape.” This four-day conference will end with a field trip to Montpelier, Monticello and Highland on Saturday. WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini was at the opening reception Wednesday [October 18] and filed this report.

This symposium on slavery started with a little history of the cadaver trade. Texas Professor Daina Ramey Berry talked about this trade where big medical schools like Harvard and New York purchased the corpses of slaves for dissection for anatomy classes.

DAINA RAMEY BERRY: One of the things I kept stumbling against is “How did enslaved people live knowing that there was a commodification beyond the grave?” One of the things that I came up with was they had this notion of their soul. It was something that nobody else could take from them, and it enabled them to survive, to separate their bodies from their souls. No better quote than this here, of an enslaved woman that says “Yes, honey, I was in slavery, but wasn’t no slave. I was just in it. That’s all.”

The evening continued with the Slave Dwelling Project experience, for which some attendees slept on the Lawn of UVa like slaves did. The university’s Black Voices Choir was invited to sing for the introduction to this overnight experience.

Marguerite Gallorini was a feelance journalist for WMRA from 2015 -2018.