Charlottesville hosts Liberation and Freedom Day event

charlottesvilleThe second annual commemoration of Liberation and Freedom Day, which recognizes the ending of slavery in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia, will be celebrated in Charlottesville on Saturday, with observances at the University of Virginia Chapel and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.

Events will begin at 9 a.m. with a service at the University of Virginia’s Rotunda led by University chaplains, featuring remarks by officials of the city and University. A procession will follow from the UVA to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, 233 4th Street NW, where participants will join assembled civic and religious leaders and members of the community in further festivities and lunch.

  • 9 a.m. Liberation service Rotunda Dome Room
  • 10 a.m. Freedom March from UVA Chapel to Jefferson School African American Heritage Center
  • 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. celebration at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center

As with other institutions and locales across the nation in recent years, the University of Virginia and the City of Charlottesville each have striven to recognize the role of slavery in their history:

In 2013, UVA President Teresa Sullivan formed the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University. In 2016, the UVA Board of Visitors selected the Boston architectural firm Höweler+Yoon to design a Memorial for Enslaved Laborers at UVA. The memorial will be installed by 2019 when the University is slated to celebrate its 200th anniversary. In October, the Commission partnered with the Slave Dwelling Project to host the “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory, & the Built Landscape” symposium.

In 2016, the Charlottesville City Council assembled The Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Monuments, and Public Spaces (BRC), and tasked the BRC with “changing the narrative on race” in the city. The BRC drew attention to the little-known historical fact that, at the time of the Civil War, the outright majority of local residents (14,000 out of 26,000) of Charlottesville and Albemarle County were enslaved. The Charlottesville City Council subsequently proclaimed March 3 to be “Liberation and Freedom Day,” to commemorate March 3, 1865, when 52 percent of the local population, some 14,000 enslaved individuals, began to be freed.

Liberation and Freedom Day links “town and gown.” In 1865, UVA officials and the mayor of Charlottesville together waved the white flag of surrender from the site of the current UVA Chapel thus relinquishing Charlottesville and the University to the authority of Union Generals Custer and Sheridan, who guarded the University against damage.

Archival records attest to the relief and jubilation of many enslaved “servants” (as the UVA faculty minutes documenting these days referred to them) from the University, the town of Charlottesville, and the surrounding Albemarle County as they were liberated by advancing Union troops who enforced the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Numerous enslaved individuals and entire families took the opportunity to escape bondage, many becoming refugees behind Union lines.

The Committee to Celebrate Liberation and Freedom Day is comprised of university and civic officials, representatives of community organizations, and religious leaders in Charlottesville.

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