The Enslaved People of George Mason Project

Facing the fullness of who Mason IV was and who we are as an institution, in the past and present

The student-led Enslaved People of George Mason (EPGM) project sought to unearth the stories of those people who were enslaved at Gunston Hall in order to inform the complex legacy of our university’s namesake.

Initiated and led by students Alexis Bracey (Global Affairs), Kye Farrow (History), Ayman Fatima (Government & International Politics and Systems Engineering), Elizabeth Perez-Garcia, (Criminology, Law & Society), and Farhaj Murshed (Applied Statistics).

Directed by Dr. Wendi Manuel-Scott and Dr. Benedict Carton, faculty affiliation in the African & African American Studies Program and Department of History & Art History.

Dr. Benjamin Hurwitz, Department of History and Art History, served as the assistant director and Omeka Coordinator of the ECGM project. Dr. George D. Oberle, GMU History Librarian, is also an assistant director. Other faculty partners include Dr. Jennifer Ritterhouse, Dr. Rosemarie Zagarri, and Dr. Spencer Crew of the Department of History and Art History.

The project culminated in the addition of the Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial to Roger Wilkins Plaza. The memorial includes panels describing the lives of two of the enslaved at Gunston Hall: Penny, who was gifted by Mason to his daughter, and James, Mason’s personal attendant. A fountain lined with a pattern of stones symbolizes an African custom practiced at Gunston Hall by the enslaved people: praying and looking to their origins across the sea. The fountain includes a quote from Roger Wilkins, the late African American civil rights leader, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and Mason Robinson Professor for whom the plaza is named. 

Four quotes were added to the base of the George Mason IV statue that exemplify the four “sides” of Mason: the brilliant legal scholar, who penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights; the defender of freedoms for a limited few; the enslaver of Black men, women and children; and the father of nine. 

The memorial was dedicated during the celebration of the university’s 50th anniversary in April 2022.  

“The memorial is an opportunity to face the fullness of who Mason IV was and who we are as an institution, in the past and present,” Manuel-Scott said. “The memorial gives us an incredible opportunity to reckon with the past and care for those erased by structures of inequality and domination.”