The Contemplative Site and the Burial Ground for Enslaved People at Monticello

Dedicated on June 17th, 2022, the Burial Ground for Enslaved People at Monticello honors the final resting place of an estimated 40 enslaved people who lived and worked at this UNESCO World Heritage site. Our team worked in close collaboration with members of Monticello’s descendant community, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF), and design partner HGA throughout the process. The newly improved site honors and protects the sacred ground providing a safe and peaceful place where the community of descendants can connect and reflect on this heritage while educating visitors about the history of enslavement at Monticello. 

The design sensitively stitches the site into the larger Monticello landscape while providing a buffer from automobile traffic and parking. Pathways provide universal access and a gradual and atmospheric approach from the visitor center and others points surrounding. Circular benches are oriented in an embracing pattern around the burial ground, keeping the focus on the sacred site. A gate leads members of the descendant community to another arcing bench within the cordoned site.  - a set-apart contemplative space designed for the exclusive use of descendant communities. The design amplifies the sanctity of the burial site while creating essential opportunities for remembrance and commemoration in the space. 

For the Contemplative Site at Monticello, NBW collaborated with HGA to design a new place of reflection at the end of Mulberry Row, the dynamic industrial hub of Thomas Jefferson’s 5,000-acre mountaintop plantation. Completed in 2022, the site honors the 607 enslaved men, women and children who lived and worked at Monticello, and offers an opportunity for greater understanding and healing.

Designed in collaboration with descendants of the enslaved community and staff from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the Contemplative Site provides visitors a place to reflect on the experience of slavery at Monticello, the people entangled in it, and its lasting impact on society today. 

Along with the Burial Ground for Enslaved People, the Contemplative Site will create a strong connection between the sites of labor and final rest, and offer a fuller perspective on the story of Monticello. The subtly curved 60-foot-long wall of Corten steel traces a “path of labor” and holds the names of the 607 men, women and children enslaved by Jefferson during his lifetime. The panels also contain open spaces which allow for new names to be added as they are discovered. The openings—inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise”—increase as the wall rises from the ground that was once worked by the enslaved.