The Mount Vernon slave memorial was designated as a burial ground for those enslaved and a handful of free Blacks who worked on plantations in the 18th and 19thcenturies.
Oral tradition has it that when one died on the plantation, they were laid to rest with their feet facing the east, with respect to the desire of the enslaved to return to their homeland in Africa.
The Mount Vernon slave memorial did not discriminate in where the enslaved or free men were buried, according to the Mount Vernon website. The graves where the deceased and the enslaved were buried did not bear their identities or numbers that classified them as slaves.
The personal assistant of George Washington, William Lee, and son of the U.S. president, West Ford, were said to have been buried at the Mount Vernon slave memorial. They are classical examples of the equality given to the dead at the burial site among enslaved and free men.
The memorial was designed by students of the architectural school of Howard University. It was officially opened to the public on September 21, 1983. The memorial is situated 50 yards southwest of George and Martha Washington’s graves close to the Potomac River.
On the columns leading to the grave site are the inscriptions of religious virtues of faith, hope and love that give hope to those living in captivity on the plantations. This goes to confirm the liberty granted to those who worked there even in their death at Mount Vernon.
The graveyard which dates 200 years old was designated as a memorial to the enslaved who worked for the Washington family from 1760 to 1860. Though the Washington family placed a premium on the burial of free men and slaves, the grave site was situated on the outskirts of the plantation.
It was abandoned and left to rot until a research team in search of burial grounds where enslaved people were buried stumbled upon it in 1982. A media publication by Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam in 1983 on the deplorable state of the cemetery attracted the attention of some prominent citizens who moved in to take remedial action. They were resolute to honor the memory of the enslaved and moved to rehabilitate the burial site.
Historians indicate that the essence of the slave memorial lies in its linkage to slavery on Washington’s estate. Washington inherited ten slaves from his father when he was 11 years old. Until he passed away in 1799, an estimated 577 enslaved people had resided and worked at Mount Vernon.
Washington however changed his perspective on slavery when he passed away. It is evident in the freedom he granted the enslaved on the plantation after the death of Martha Washington.
Rights group Black Women United for Action over the years has been working and engaging in campaigns to promote the slave memorial at Mount Vernon. It considered the memorial a tribute to the lives of the enslaved and what they stood for at Mount Vernon.