The reason this memorial is in such a prominent spot on our campus is that we know a polite remembrance is not enough. We have an obligation, here at this citadel of free speech, to set a higher standard. We need to commit fully to the act of remembrance.
The Slavery Memorial, commissioned after the release of the Slavery and Justice Report and dedicated in 2014, is a tangible recognition of Brown’s, and the rest of Rhode Island’s, connections to the transatlantic slave trade. It sits at the center of the Front Green, also known as the Quiet Green, in the heart of the Brown campus.
In 2009, after the Steering Committee called on the University to create a permanent memorial recognizing the University’s and state’s historical ties to the slave trade, the University formed a commission of Brown, Providence and Rhode Island leaders to establish a theme and search for an artist. Commission members engaged sculptor and National Medal of Arts recipient Martin Puryear.
Following the Steering Committee’s original charge to create “a living site of memory, inviting reflection and fresh discovery without provoking paralysis or shame,” Puryear designed an iron ball and broken chain, symbolizing a move toward infinite freedom even as the weight of history remains half-buried. An inscription on an adjacent stone plinth describes the context and background behind the piece.