Look, Over There, a Squirrel!

The new, politically correct UVa logo. How long before someone decides this, too, is insensitive? The term “cavalier” refers to English aristocrats and monarchists of the 1600s. Didn’t they support slavery? Wasn’t Governor Berkeley, the man who suppressed the uprising of poor whites and freed slaves known as Bacon’s Rebellion, a cavalier? Isn’t it time to jettison this anachronistic, militarist and offensive logo?

by James A. Bacon

Ever alert to signs of racism so subtle that most people can’t see them, the University of Virginia has altered its new V-Sabre logo to remove curves that had been added to the sword  handles. At the unveiling of the original logo, the university had noted that “detail was added to the grip of the sabres that mimics the design of the serpentine walls found on the Grounds.”

The serpentine walls have long been revered as one of a highlight of Thomas Jefferson’s design of the original university lawn, pavilions and environs. But Mr. Jefferson erected the walls for the purpose of keeping slaves out of view. Ergo, in the words of Virginia athletics director Carla Williams, there was a “negative connotation between the serpentine walls and slavery.”

Williams apologized to those who “bear the pain of slavery in our history.”

Interesting. As best I can tell, Williams has never apologized to those who bear the pain of the $28,335 cost of attendance (2019-20 academic year) at the University of Virginia, a cost that has increased 14% in just four years and, even with financial aid, causes disproportionate hardship on poor minorities who attend the university.

She has never apologized for the $8,700 per student (see previous post for details) expenditures on administrative overhead every year, the second highest among Virginia’s public universities. Nor has she apologized for her $566,500 salary (2018-19), much less the $963,000 salary of her boss, UVa President James E. Ryan, or the university’s many extravagances, such as the $42.5 million Rotunda renovation.

Never forget: Higher-ed institutions are structured to extract wealth from students, often causing them to graduate tens of thousands of dollars in debt, in order to pay for the pay, perks, and tokens of prestige that are so important to the faculty-administrative elite. Controversies over such frivolities such as the filigree on the sabre grip of a school logo serve the function of distracting students, alumni, politicians and the media from this incontestable reality.

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24 responses to “Look, Over There, a Squirrel!

  1. I laughed when I read about that somewhere else and wondered, then why don’t they just take down the walls if they are tainted? Sounds like they are just as offensive to somebody as a dead white general on a horse.

    Our occasional contributor Hans Bader on some of the unlikely targets for rioter’s wrath…..

  2. “Interesting. As best I can tell, Williams has never apologized to those who bear the pain of the $28,335 cost of attendance (2019-20 academic year) at the University of Virginia, a cost that has increased 14% in just four years and, even with financial aid, causes disproportionate hardship on poor minorities who attend the university.”

    The high cost of attendance of UVA is problematic, yes, but bloated admin costs at public institutions of higher learning are not the cause of the disproportionate hardship. The disproportionate hardship is due to the racial wealth gap. Unless we make college free for everyone, it will always be proportionally more costly for those who have less money.

  3. This sort of pettiness trivializes the larger, more important need of being aware of how blacks are often targets of discrimination in society.

  4. I gave some student tours while at UVA – we always described the Serpentine Walls as both an engineering feat (similar strength as double-bricked walls, fewer bricks needed) and an aesthetic (looks good). Never ever heard of keeping slaves out of view as a reason (that may just be my ignorance). I do wonder if slaves were (unfortunately) common during the time of the walls’ construction, why Jefferson thought they needed to be hidden from view. Was this a documented purpose of the walls? Ready to accept if true; very wary of notions that become facts because they are repeated. Can anyone more conversant with the walls’ history weigh in?

    • This theory of ‘hiding slaves’ is utter BS. The original Pavillions were intended to be faculty homes, with classrooms downstairs, living quarters upstairs. Kitchens were out back somewhere, usually in a separate building, as was the custom in those days for fire prevention. The walled gardens behind each Pavillion were for formal gardens and/or raising vegetables and such out for the professor’s family. Go to Williamsburg if you want to see a nearly-contemporary set of living spaces; or maybe nearby Ash Lawn (aka Highland); no self-respecting family would have a nice home without a garden.

      So, how do you keep your garden private? You build a wall around it! Anybody who grew up in Richmond knows the Fan District with all those little walled gardens. That’s the way a cluster of townhouses is built; and the Pavilions of the Lawn essentially were (large, multipurpose) townhouses. Jefferson knew that and provided the garden walls in his original plan according to his own ingenious scheme for combining teaching (structural engineering) with efficiency (saved bricks) with function (a garden wall!) with aesthetics (a repeating, graceful curve).

      Sure, some of those gardens may have been tilled by household slaves belonging to the professors; others by the professors’ own family or paid servants. So you’re going to blame the sometime presence of slaves on the Grounds before the C.W. on the serpentine walls?? To repeat: BS.

      • Thank you.

        The notion that it was to hide slavery in Virginia in 1800 is absurd.

        Slavery was an accepted institution. It was as much of a part of society then as is an internal combustion engine is a part of today’s society. Not without conflict, not without controversy. Nevertheless, the hood on my car is not there to hide the shame of my CO2-making, gass-guzzling, eco-changing engine. It’s there to improve the aesthetics of the car.

        Look at Monticello. The same aesthetics are apparent there. TJ was obsessed with making things appear magical. Look at his wine conveyer. A hidden elevator where he could puck an endless number of bottles from the side of the fireplace. Revolving doors where food appeared as if by magic.

        If he were alive today, he’d be working at designing Disney theme parks. And, he’d be very, very good at it.

  5. Despite the structure of higher-ed institutions, no student is required to attend a particular university or a university period. It is interesting that there is no mention of the football coach(es) salaries which generally exceed that of even the university president. Lastly, are organizations including corporations and universities not entitled to take those actions that they feel will benefit the organization? They need not be concerned whether everyone will agree with their actions.

    • It’s a nonsensical argument. The higher cost of ANYTHING would supposedly have a “disproportionate” impact on the “poor” but then it gets conflated even worse by claiming it’s “racist” because the “poor” are “black” or some such foolishness. I guess those higher prices don’t really have a “racist” impact on white folks, eh?

      • I’m glad to hear that from you, Larry. This is a first. I have been hammering on the disproportionate-impact-does-not-equal discrimination argument for years, and I don’t recall you ever agreeing with me. I’ll remember your comment the next time you defend a liberal/progressive argument using the EXACT SAME LOGIC in any number of ongoing controversies.

        • but is that the SAME LOGIC being used when an argument is made about disproportionate impact to “poor” and “blacks” like they mean one and the same?

          How about an example – a real one?

  6. I wonder what will happen to some well-known statues on Virginia campuses.

  7. Unless there is a contemporaneous document, preferably in TJ’s hand, describing the “hidden slave” feature, I call “BS”.

    TJ was notoriously frugal and the serpentine wall is cheaper than a traditional straight wall; it can be made a single brick thick thus using far fewer bricks.

    Engineering available at the time also indicated it could withstand higher winds and forces than a shorter single brick straight wall.

    • The report on Slavery and UVA commented on the 8 foot wall being used to hide slaves. Page 25 in link below. Jefferson also had design elements at Monticello to hide the movement of slaves.


      • thanks for the link Izzo… it’s an interesting read……

      • Thanks. Assuming the commission did its research, then it appears the purpose of “walls” was to provide cover and block the view of the “works” (butchering, laundry, etc.) from the students and guests. But this would not be unusual (even today) slaves or not. Aesthetics. Take Disney underground.

        Not being familiar with the grounds, am I to believe that the walls that separate the workspaces are indeed the serpentine walls in question?

        I found this in the prologue ironic, “We (the commission) learned very quickly that it is a mistake to understand UVA (or any other university) as walled off from the community in which it is embedded.”

        Walled off. Har humor. Ironic because apparently the university walls failed at their purpose too, since the report indicates the enslaved moved freely about the place.

      • Wonder of wonders, I agree with “Nancy_Naive” on something. Also, I am not going to rely on one citation in one dubiously researched report by an inherently biased “commission” to heap still more specious claims of racism on UVA. There are enough legitimate claims of racism in UVA’s (and all of Virginia’s) past to contend with.

        As horrible as it sounds, it is ridiculous to claim that anyone in the Commonwealth of Virginia during the late 18th and early 19th century felt the need to hide slaves simply because they WERE slaves.

        However, it was and is common practice when designing large facilities/campuses to try to screen the customer/consumer (in this case students, faculty, and residents of Charlottesville) from areas where “grunt work” is being performed. After all, most people prefer not to see how the sausage is made. I can accept the idea that the design of the UVA campus included screening of such areas wherever practical, but I reject the premise that this screening had anything to do with “hiding slaves” – it would have been intended to hide ALL common laborers on the campus.

  8. re: ” The term “cavalier” refers to English aristocrats and monarchists of the 1600s. ”

    Did TJ come up with that term? Was it the original of the University?

  9. The doc that Izzo provided was interesting. It alluded to the walls as partitions for slave owners to keep track of their slaves but in reality unlike a plantation – slaves move all over the campus and were often employed as “runners” to fetch items including going into town for faculty and the students.

    The other thing I noticed was that the students were apparently, mostly (all?) sons of “planters”…

    Was that UVA the intent of Jefferson’s “vision”?

    ” When the University opened in 1825, anywhere from 125 to 200 enslaved people would live and work at the school in most years. They were owned by a dozen or more people and had to move all across the campus and even into Charlottesville or beyond as they did their work. From the first day of classes in 1825, the vast majority of students came from slave states and from wealthy slaveholding families. They had been privately educated and indulged by their planter families. “

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