The University of Virginia designed a new athletics logo earlier this year that incorporated the school’s famous serpentine walls. As soon as the design was revealed, however, activists insisted the serpentine walls were built to keep white students from having to view the slaves that worked on the campus.
Now, an architectural history professor at the university is challenging that claim, suggesting Thomas Jefferson actually designed the walls to save on materials and perhaps to keep drunk students from destroying the professor’s gardens. Professor emeritus Richard Guy Wilson told The Washington Free Beacon that while slaves did work on the UVA campus, the walls were not intended to hide them.
“I don’t think they were made for the explicit purpose of hiding slaves,” Wilson told the outlet. “Not to say there weren’t enslaved African Americans working there, but I don’t think it was there to hide them away.”
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Jefferson’s serpentine wall design was influenced by gardens in Great Britain, where curved walls have been used for centuries to create strong barriers while saving on material. Unlike straight walls, serpentine walls can stand tall with only one layer of brick. The design allows gardeners more control over the sunlight plants receive. Jefferson’s original design notes for the wall, housed at the university library, show he calculated the precise number of bricks he could avoid purchasing by opting for the serpentine style of wall.
Rather than being used to keep slaves out of sight, Wilson proposed the walls were built to keep rowdy students from wrecking the professor’s gardens.
“Early students were a riotous bunch of elite, young, white men,” Wilson told the outlet. “There were the usual problems of a little too much hooch and fooling around. I think they were put up to keep the damn students out of the gardens so they didn’t muck it up.”
Wilson has worked for UVA since 1976 and has a Ph.D. in American culture, art, and architectural history, the Free Beacon reported. He also worked for five years on former UVA president Teresa Sullivan’s research project to document the school’s history of slave labor.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, UVA designed a new athletics logo that featured the school’s “V” logo with two sabers underneath, the grips of which were lined to mimic the serpentine walls found on campus. Activists at the school quickly explained that the serpentine walls were designed to keep students from having to see slaves, and UVA athletics director Carla Williams apologized and said a new logo would be designed.
“After the release of our new logos on April 24, I was made aware of the negative connotation between the serpentine walls and slavery,” Williams said. “I was not previously aware of the historical perspective indicating the original eight-foot-high walls were constructed to mask the institution of slavery and enslaved laborers from public view.”
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