On February 7, the Minority Rights Coalition launched a petition and letter-writing campaign calling on the Names and Memorials Committee to remove the Frank Hume Memorial Fountain – also known as the Wall of Murmurs – due to the Confederate track record of Hume.
The MRC is an alliance of seven student organizations focused on supporting marginalized groups – the Asian Student Union, the Black Student Alliance, the Latinx Student Alliance, the Middle Eastern Leadership Council, the Muslim Students Association, the Native American Student Union and the Queer Student. Union.
“The structure will always serve as a reminder that the racist ideals defended by the Confederation are also ideals that the University is proud to preserve,” the MRC said in an open letter to the University.
Hume, who was born in Culpeper County in 1843, fought for the Confederate Army during the Civil War and also served in the Virginia House of Delegates. His two sons, John and Howard Hume, both attended college. Hume himself resided in Alexandria and was considered a benefactor of the university.
The Frank Hume Memorial Fountain was erected near Monroe Hall and Newcomb Hall in 1938, and John and Howard Hume were major donors for its construction. It consists of a marble fountain and a wall that can carry whispers throughout, hence its nickname – the Wall of Whispers. The inscription on the wall describes Hume as “a staunch Virginian who served his home state during the Civil War and the Legislature”.
Abena Appiah-Ofori, MRC vice president of advocacy and second-year college student, is spearheading the MRC’s campaign – which was made public on February 7 – to remove the Frank Hume memorial. The MRC’s open letter to the University contains a call to include black students in discussions surrounding the memorial. The Black Student Alliance, among other minority student groups such as the Asian Student Leadership Council and the Latinx Student Alliance, signed the letter in solidarity.
“If the university administration and officials want to continue working on behalf of African Americans … and people who want to feel righteous or more comfortable in college, then they will consider the deletion [the memorial] in order to make it a more welcoming community, ”said Deric Childress Jr., third-year college student and president of BSA.
The campaign follows approval by the Visitors’ Council of several proposals in the Racial Equity Task Force report, which deals with the promotion of racial equity at the University. Last September, the board of trustees voted to remove or rededicate the memorial, and the newly formed naming and memorials committee will ultimately decide the fate of the wall. The eight-member committee, which includes two professors of African-American studies, will make recommendations on the construction of names and memorials on the ground.
Michael Suarez, English teacher and director of the Rare Book School, chairs the Naming and Memorials Committee. Due to the recent creation of the committee, Suarez could not provide an exact date for the memorial discussions.
The committee’s first order of business is to develop a recommended plan of action regarding the contextualization of statues and memorials at the University, he said. Next, they will tackle the issue of the Frank Hume Memorial, starting by examining the history of the wall.
“We will need to spend time and effort weighing the possibilities available carefully, as we commit to serious thought and scholarship,” Suarez said in an email to Cavalier Daily.
Ahead of the February 8 announcement of the Names and Memorials Committee, Appiah-Ofori reached out to several equity initiative leaders at the university about the progress of finalizing the memorial’s status, including Kevin McDonald, vice -President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Partnerships and Barbara Brown Wilson, Director of the Faculty of The Equity Center. Both were not aware of any upcoming plans for the Frank Hume Memorial. McDonald serves as a consultant to the Names and Memorials Committee.
Appiah-Ofori called Wilson’s response “dismissive” in its implication of wanting to move forward without addressing the issue of the memorial. Appiah-Ofori had individually appealed to Wilson, asking him to “unequivocally choose to remove the Wall of Whispers in its entirety.”
“Thank you very much! It’s always wonderful to see students use their collective power to defend justice,” Wilson said in his email response to Appiah-Ofori. “What’s next on your priority list?”
The Names and Memorials Committee is aware of the RCN campaign and will take its comments into account in its final recommendation to the University.
Wilson said that because she was not a decision maker on the Hume Memorial, her intention with her responses to emails from students was to support the efforts.
“It was in no way meant to be dismissive,” Wilson said.
Wilson also said a meeting is scheduled with student leaders and people at the Equity Center to discuss how best to support them.
“I can promise that the Committee is committed to considering everyone’s thoughtful comments,” Suarez said.
Appiah-Ofori first learned of the Wall’s Confederate connection last spring when another black student told her how she cried after searching for Hume’s name online. Having known the monument as the Murmurs Wall only from orientation, Appiah-Ofori was shocked.
“I still have to go through the Wall of Whispers to get to my English class that I had,” said Appiah-Ofori. “It really made me feel [bad] as a black student, having to walk past a Confederate memorial every day. “
Childress only learned about the memorial’s history recently when MRC began its campaign. He believes that many other students are also unaware of the traces of Confederate history on Grounds.
“The most important thing to know about U.Va. and the history of racism and inequality here is instructive, and many people are not educated on the memorials or statues that the University of Virginia has displayed within this community, ”Childress said.
The George Rogers Clark statue, which will be removed from the area after a visitors’ council vote in September, shows Clark on horseback, overlooking three Native Americans. Clark was a revolutionary war general who led campaigns against Native Americans.
The Thomas Jefferson statue on the north side of the Rotunda will be contextualized to address his status as a slave owner and his exploitation of bonded labor to build the University. A petition that circulated last summer details the problematic backgrounds of many building namesakes – 23 in total – and most are linked to slave ownership and white supremacy.
The MRC’s petition and letter campaign builds on Appiah-Ofori’s efforts last year. Last June, seeking to make a concrete contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement, Appiah-Ofori and a friend – second-year college student Chloe Leon – started their own petition to end the Wall of Whispers. The petition currently has over 2,120 signatures and has succeeded in attracting the attention of university officials. President Jim Ryan acknowledged support for the petition and sent it to the Racial Equity Task Force when the report was created, according to an internal email obtained by The Cavalier Daily.
Appiah-Ofori’s decision to consider rededicating the memorial as well, however, disappointed Appiah-Ofori. Repurposing the memorial would keep the wall intact on Grounds, but remove Hume’s namesake.
“I don’t think they were listening to us,” Appiah-Ofori said. “Honestly, I think they want to go with the cheapest option, because obviously it will cost a lot more money to move it in its entirety rather than just sticking a different name on it.”
The MRC is promoting its campaign on social media and plans to garner support by visiting the general assemblies of other student organizations such as BSA.
“This is just the start, and we must continue to fight for more equity and more justice and more a sense of belonging for those who come to college,” Childress said.