For nearly two decades, a passionate group of teachers worked to memorialize the men, women, and children whose labor contributed to John McDonogh’s wealth—the very wealth that led to the founding of McDonogh School. Ultimately, The Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed, designed by retired Art Department Chair Oletha DeVane, was dedicated during a special ceremony on April 19, 2022. It is a place for members of the McDonogh community—now and in the future—to remember and reflect, learn and question, and gain a deeper understanding of this complex period of history.
Positioned in the center of the memorial garden is a multi-layered sculpture called Ascend. It is approximately 14 feet tall and was forged out of both polished and matte steel. It is not only a singular element in the space but something that draws on the environment by reflecting the colors in the garden and landscaping.
Water, referring to the waterways of Louisiana and the transatlantic slave trade from which free and enslaved people from four continents emerged, is used as an element of transcendence. The wall inside the garden features water cascading over the engraved names of 95 people enslaved on John McDonogh’s three plantations—Allard, McDonoghville, and St. Gem—at the time of his death. The 118 other names are people who were manumitted by McDonogh to the American Colonization Society colony of Liberia. They sailed aboard the Mariposa in 1842 and the Rebecca in 1859.
Learn more about the Memorial and its creation by Artist Oletha DeVane in this video by Robin Hamilton ‘91.