CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- An effort is underway in Charlottesville to ensure that the enslaved people who built the University of Virginia receive the proper credit and have their history told accurately.
A part of this effort is a documentary, "The Lives Between The Lines", that details how the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers on grounds came to be.
The film's director, Erik Duda, who previously worked in the communications office at UVA, said he was initially tasked with creating a shorter project about the construction of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at UVA. Instead, the project grew into a 50-minute long, in-depth documentary film.
"Black history is American history and there's not just one way of telling the history. It's not just in the history books because it's all about who had the power to tell these stories," Duda said. "I wanted to use the power that I had in university communications at UVA to uplift these stories."
UVA shared the following statement about the film:
"This intimate, powerful film documents the inspiration for and construction of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia. The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers acknowledges the work and individual lives of the enslaved African Americans who built UVA and sustained daily life from its founding."
The memorial was dedicated almost two years ago but was the culmination of a project that has been more than 10 years in the making.
The film captures the voices of students, researchers, professors, community members and descendants of the enslaved laborers who worked to make the memorial happen.
Cauline Yates and Jess Harris' family ties run generations deep in the Charlottesville area. The two women are the descendants of enslaved laborers at UVA and are both featured in the film.
"For all of you who know Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, I am Sally Hemings' seventh-generation great-niece," Yates said.
"Because of the memorial, my family took up an interest in learning our family history and I found out I was a descendant and Cauline and I are cousins. I would have never known that had the memorial not happened," Harris said.
UVA was founded in 1819 and it is estimated that 4,000 enslaved people worked on the grounds between 1817 and 1865.
"These slaves got no recognition whatsoever," Yates said. "The University of Virginia would not be what it is today if the slaves hadn't built it."
The two women praised Duda and his team for their work on the film, adding to efforts to honor those who have been overlooked.
"I hope this film plays a small role in unpacking a bit more of what the truth is and how we can address it going forward," Duda said.
Following more screenings and after the film has been shown at upcoming festivals, we will post a link to watch it here.