Unsung Founders, Bond and Free, UNC (Chapel Hill)
The memorial is a table located in McCorkle Place, one of the University’s quads. The two-foot high table is made of black granite and supported by 300 bronze figurines. The figures have distinctive Negroid features. The female figures are wearing handkerchiefs and long skirts while the male figures are clothed in three different ways to differentiate between freemen, laborers or the enslaved. The miniature figures are a signature of the artist Do-Ho- Suh which he used to “emphasize the creation of a collective in sustaining or challenging power” although the size has proved problematic (See Controversies below). The table is surrounded by 5 black stone stools which were modeled on the rocks used instead of headstones for many of the African American burials at the Old Chapel Hill cemetery.
Inscribed around edge of table: THE CLASS OF 2002 HONORS THE UNIVERSITY’S UNSUNG FOUNDERS — THE PEOPLE OF COLOR BOND AND FREE — WHO HELPED BUILD THE CAROLINA THAT WE CHERISH TODAY.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
November 5, 2005
35.913620 , -79.052120 View in Geobrowse
"Celebrating the Unsung Founders," University Gazette (Chapel Hill, NC), November 16, 2005
"Do-Ho Suh, Unsung Founders, Bond and Free, McCorkle Place, 2005," The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History, (accessed April 3, 2012) Link
Fryar, Charlotte. “McCorkle Place,” Reclaiming the University of the People, (accessed January 5, 2024) Link
Hudson, Susan. “The Eye of the Beholder,” UNC-Chapel Hill, October 25, 2021, www.unc.edu, (accessed January 2, 2024) Link
Knighton, H. "Class of 2002 Raises $54K for Unsung Founders Memorial," The Daily Tarheel (Chapel Hill, NC), 11/5/2002, (accessed January 21, 2019) Link
McMillan, Timothy J. “Remembering Forgetting: A Monument to Erasure at The University of North Carolina,” Bergham Books, (accessed January 7, 2024) Link
Black granite, bronze
University Graduating Class of 2002
Attendees at the dedication included descendants of the University’s “unsung founders,” local residents and leaders in Chapel Hill’s Black neighborhoods, including restaurateur Mildred Council, civil rights activist Fred Battle, and union leader Rebecca Clark (whose name is also on the Cheek-Clark Building). Chancellor James Moeser, said the memorial, “attests to our commitment to shed light on the darker corners of our history. The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Bernadette Gray-Little, a Black woman, noted that “One of the troublesome legacies of slavery is the pall that it casts over the family histories of those who were bought and sold. My obscured family history is a reflection of the obscurity of enslaved persons. . . This monument finally recognizes the many unnamed whose toil and talent made the nation’s first public university possible.”
There has been discussion since the monument’s installation of the monument in such a prominent location on one of the campus’s main quads, particularly concerning the impression it gives to visitors of the campus. There has also been discussion about the monument being overshadowed by the Confederate monument (Silent Sam) on campus (removed in 2018.)
The artist originally wanted it placed more to the side of the quad and under a tree. However, the facilities department worried the monument might damage a tree. Eventually the current location was chosen.
Controversies about the monument resurfaced as recently as 2021 when the University Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward sponsored a webinar about the Unsung Founders Memorial. The webinar brought together members of the Chapel Hill community and members of the student committee that originated the memorial and the artist for the first time since it was placed in 2005. One issue that has long been a sore point was the lack of community involvement in creating the memorial. That has led to a situation where descendants of the workers it is meant to honor have seen it as another symbol of oppression and belittlement. Its size at two-feet high being the particular sticking point as it is surrounded by more prominent monuments to the white founders of the campus. One commentator called it a “footrest.” Also noted in earlier discussions, its size was felt to limit its ability to “create a powerful and significant memory in the memorial landscape.”
The monument is located in McCorkle place on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, NC.
The location of the monument is interesting in its proximity to the campus’s Memorial to the University’s Civil War soldiers (removed in 2018.) The location is intentional to represent the University’s dedication to recognizing its history. At the monument’s dedication, the Chancellor at the time spoke to the monument’s significance in the University’s commitment to recognizing all aspects of its history, including its darker aspects.
The Class of 2002 voted to approve the monument as the class gift. Of the approximately 750 students who voted, the monument received 44% of votes. A need-based scholarship for seniors came in second with 28%.