Unsung Founders Memorial

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Unsung Founders Memorial
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Unsung Founders Memorial in December 2012.
Unsung Founders Memorial in December 2012.
Erected November 5, 2005
Location Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The Unsung Founders Memorial at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is located in McCorkle Place, one of the University’s quads. The memorial is a black granite tabletop supported by 300 bronze figurines and surrounded by 5 black stone seats. The inscription around the edge of the table says “The Class Of 2002 Honors The University's Unsung Founders - The People Of Color Bound And Free - Who Helped Build The Carolina That We Cherish Today.”[1] The memorial was a class gift by the Class of 2002 and was one of the most successful endeavors for fundraising for a class gift to the University.[2]

History and funding[edit]

In order to fund enough money for the Unsung Founders Memorial to be created the 2002 senior class raised about $54,000. This fundraising way exceeded the class goal of raising $40,000. The seniors themselves contributed $20,000 of the $54,000 and the rest was donated by parents, friends, faculty and friends of the University through fundraising efforts. The additional $40,000 needed to complete the memorial was secured by the provost’s office. The final cost of the memorial itself was around $80,000 and the remaining funds were used for site preparation in addition to the installation ceremony. Emily Stevens who is the director of the young alumni program for the Office of Development commented on the success of fundraising efforts of the class of 2002 and bragged that "The effort the class put forth to get the word out was a major factor".[2]

Students initially sent out about seventy requests to various artists and heard back from eleven of the requested individuals. The students narrowed the choices down to four artists and three of them came to Chapel Hill for interviews.[3] Do-Ho Suh was the Korean artist that was eventually selected to create the memorial. Suh had an artistic background with work that exemplifies the concepts of collective versus individual and identity versus anonymity.[4]

After selecting the artist, the issue of placement on campus was next. The location for the memorial was selected by finding an agreement between Do-Ho Suh, the 2002 senior class officers and of course the final approval of the UNC Building Grounds Committee. Originally Do-Ho Suh had identified three locations on campus that would be ideal for the memorial. The UNC Building Grounds committee had to review all three locations to approve a spot for the placements of the memorial. Ultimately the students wanted the location to be a prominent spot on the University but preserving the look of the University was of utmost importance. University Grounds Director Kirk Pelland expressed concerns about the possible memorial locations and importance of determining how that might affect the large trees on campus.[2]


The Installation of the Unsung Founders memorial occurred on May 11th 2005 and the dedication ceremony was held on November 5th 2005.[5] The ceremony was held at 10 a.m. at the site of the memorial on McCorkle Place quadrangle in front of the Alumni Building, near Franklin Street, on the Carolina campus.[6] The ceremony featured speakers including James Moeser, UNC Chancellor and Dr. Bernadette Gray-Little, dean of the UNC College of Arts and Science. In addition, the 2002 senior class officers Ben Singer who served as the president and Byron Wilson who served as the vice president also spoke at the ceremony. James Moeser speech included:[5]

What we do today will not rectify what our ancestors did in the past, But this memorial, I believe, attests to our commitment to shed light on the darker corners of our history. Yes, the University’s first leaders were slaveholders. It is also true that the contributions of African American servants and slaves were crucial to its success.

According to Chancellor Moeser, this memorial did not emerge from some committee of campus administrators or panel of faculty experts, "[It] arose from the inspiration of our students." Furthermore, "The Class of 2002 voted overwhelmingly in favor of creating this as their senior class gift. They voted overwhelmingly to make an honest judgment on difficult events.” He goes on to state:[5]

Suh’s creation here on McCorkle Place is a splendid piece. One thing that has struck me is how it not only captures the spirit of the senior class’s intent, but provides a functional space that passersby already have embraced. Students sit here to study notes before class, spreading their books across the tabletop. Others come to enjoy a picnic lunch. In fact, this piece does for us what the people it honors did for us — that is, makes Carolina a better place to be.

Gray-Little added 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, This monument finally recognizes the many unnamed whose toil and talent made the nation’s first public university possible.”[5]


  1. ^ Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina. (2010, March 19). Retrieved November 7, 2012, from http://docsouth.unc.edu/commland/monument/45/
  2. ^ a b c The Daily Tar Heel :: Class of 2002 Raises $54K for Unsung Founders Memorial. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2012, from http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2002/11/class_of_2002_raises_54k_for_unsung_founders_memorial
  3. ^ Memorial’s message elevates controversy. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2012, from http://www.newsobserver.com/2009/11/29/213404/memorials-message-elevates-controversy.html
  4. ^ The Daily Tar Heel :: Suh Chosen as Gift Artist; Design, Funding in Works. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2012, from http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2002/05/suh_chosen_as_gift_artist_design_funding_in_works
  5. ^ a b c d UNIVERSITY GAZETTE | November 16, 2005 | The University of North Carolina. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2012, from http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/05nov16/file.4.html
  6. ^ Our Community. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2012, from http://www.unc.edu/community/unsung.html