George Mason University unveils memorial for people enslaved by school's founding father

A plaque honoring James, an enslaved young man, is seen during the dedication of the Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial in Wilkins Plaza at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, on Monday.

(CNN)George Mason University unveiled a new memorial this week honoring the people enslaved by the university's namesake, as the Virginia school attempts to reckon with the prominent statesman's controversial history.

George Mason IV, a prominent figure in Virginia's history, known for penning the state's Declaration of Rights, which influenced several later documents including the US Bill of Rights, also had a complicated relationship with slavery, according to the Center for Mason Legacies.
Students "are often surprised to learn that George Mason IV was also a slaveholder," Wendi Manuel-Scott, the associate director for the research center, told CNN.
      The memorial now sits next to a statue of Mason on the university's campus in Fairfax, Virginia. It is the centerpiece of the newly renovated plaza named after the late Dr. Roger Wilkins, who was an African American civil rights leader, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a Mason professor.
        The memorial, which was unveiled Monday, spans nearly 300 feet and features a quote from Wilkins and several markers with 81 unique names representing the more than 100 people believed to be owned by Mason at Gunston Hall plantation. A young man named James and a child named Penny, who were domestic servants, are highlighted in the memorial.
          "We discovered a young man named James, George Mason's personal attendant. And we discovered Penny, a child given by Mason to his daughter, and many others who were not recognized or acknowledged," Manuel-Scott said.
          Professor Wendi Manuel-Scott gives remarks during the dedication of the memorial.
          Manuel-Scott told CNN the university decided to keep Mason's statue in the plaza next to the memorial to "raise awareness about George Mason."
          The different aspects of Mason's life are highlighted on a new pedestal with four quotes at the base of his statue.
          "What we tried to do was show the four Masons in one, that was really critical for us. He wasn't just this incredible legal mind. But he was also a father, he was also an enslaver, and he was also a Patriot," George D. Oberle III, the director at Center for Mason Legacies, told CNN.
          Oberle said the project started in the summer of 2017 when five undergraduate George Mason University students and three faculty members started researching Mason and the people he enslaved.
            "This memorial educates us about the contradictions and complexities of George Mason. A man of the 1700s whose actions in some cases didn't match his values. But more than that it conveys the values and actions of George Mason University in the 21st Century. We grow wiser from examining our full truths, no matter how complicate, messy or discomforting they might be," university president Dr. Gregory Washington said in a statement to CNN.
            The Enslaved People of George Mason memorial was dedicated as part of the university's 50th anniversary celebration. It was designed by Stephanie Wolfgang, who works for the architectural design firm Perkins & Will.