Virginia made a subtle change to its logo in an effort to remove a reference to slavery.
In April this year, Virginia revealed three new designs, two of which featured sword handles. In doing so, the school deliberately made the handles of the sword a reference to the serpentine walls found on campus. At first glance it seemed like a nice nod to the school, but people quickly started to criticize the design.
Virginia athletics director Carla Williams announced earlier this week the university removed the curves that were added to the handles.
After the release of our new logos on April 24th, I was made aware of the negative connotation between the serpentine walls and slavery. I was not previously aware of the historical perspective indicating the original eight-foot-high walls were constructed to mask the institution of slavery and enslaved laborers from public view.
Over the last few weeks, I have worked to better educate myself and that education will continue.
There was no intent to cause harm, but we did, and for that I apologize to those who bear the pain of slavery in our history. As such, we have redesigned the logos to remove that detail. All other aspects of the logos will remain the same.
The reference was subtle, but the change was minor enough where Virginia felt it was right to remove it.
As for how the serpentine walls are a reference to slavery, we’ll cite Virginia’s own report on that issue. In 2013, Teresa Sullivan (president of UVA at the time) formed the President’s Commission on Slavery to look into the school’s history. In 2018, a full report was created.
From the report:
[Thomas] Jefferson’s architectural plan for the University created distinct zones for the students and for the enslaved. The enslaved were to live and work in the basements and in the garden work yards where students were in theory to have little reason to venture. … Even though the high walls of the gardens were designed to limit the ability of the enslaved to see beyond them and to essentially isolate the enslaved from contact with anyone outside the walls, they would not function that way in reality. The walls were also intended as barriers separating people owned by one faculty member or hotelkeeper from another and designed to make it easier for their owners to monitor their enslaved people.
The report found that the walls didn’t work as intended, but they were built with the specific purpose of keeping enslaved people separated from the student bodt. So honoring those walls was a bad look to represent on the school’s logo, which is why Virginia ultimately removed them.