Brown & Slavery & Justice

Slavery Memorial

An iron and stone sculpture, installed in 2014 on the Front Green near University Hall, serves as a crucial everyday reminder of Brown’s historical ties to the slave trade.

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.

Christina H. Paxson President, Brown University

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.

Remarks from the 2014 Slavery Memorial dedication

News From Brown

‘A memorial is also about things to do’

B. Anthony Bogues, professor of Africana studies and inaugural director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, addressed more than 300 University guests at the dedication of the Slavery Memorial. He spoke about efforts to grapple with the past and noted that the memorial also points to unfinished work.
News From Brown

‘A polite remembrance is not enough’

President Christina Paxson addressed more than 300 University guests who had assembled on the Front Green for the dedication of the Slavery Memorial. The memorial’s prominent location helps remind the University community of its obligation to set a higher standard, to commit fully to the act of remembrance.
Sculptor Martin Puryear spoke about his new work, about the difficulty of creating a memorial about a shameful historic practice, and about using art to do justice to historical truth. More than 300 guests who attended the dedication Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, rose to applaud when Puryear was introduced and rose again after he had spoken.

Archived News about the Slavery Memorial

News From Brown

Brown University dedicates its slavery memorial

More than 300 University guests joined President Christina Paxson, Prof. Anthony Bogues, and American sculptor Martin Puryear on the Front Green Saturday afternoon, Sept. 27, 2014, to dedicate the University’s new Slavery Memorial.
News From Brown

Martin Puryear to design slavery memorial

Acclaimed American artist Martin Puryear has been commissioned to design and create a memorial on the Front Campus commemorating the University’s historic ties to the slave trade.
The Commission on Memorials, established by Brown University in cooperation with the City of Providence and State of Rhode Island, has released its report containing a set of six recommendations on how to acknowledge the University and community's historical relationship to slavery.