1993: Hatred’s History

Former students speak about their encounters with violent acts of discrimination

Words and Photo Illustrations by Dan Goff.

Editor’s note: The author of this article searched through old Cavalier Daily articles and examined content related to racist events from the 1990s. This article contains material that may remind some readers of traumatic events.

“A few weeks ago, something happened to me I shall never forget.” 

So begins Barbara Patterson’s Viewpoint article, “Magistrate fails to protect victims of racist neo-Nazi attack,” published in The Cavalier Daily April 7, 1993. Patterson was a fourth-year College student at the time. As the title suggests, her piece describes an attack instigated by neo-Nazis against two black men on the Corner, along with the legal action — or lack thereof — that followed it. The incident, witnessed by Patterson and her friend, took place within a week of the attempted murder of a Puerto Rican man. Both events were racially motivated, both of them took place in the spring of 1993 and both helped uncover a community of underground neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

According to the Viewpoint — essentially today’s op-ed — Patterson and her friend were walking through the Corner a little before midnight on a Saturday when they noticed a “tall, skinny white male walking towards [them].” Assuming he was drunk, Patterson tried to stay out of his way, but he “swerved his body” towards her and rammed into her, trying to knock her over “for no apparent reason.” She started to yell at him, but thought better of it. “Something told me … if I said anything to him, he might do something far worse than violently bump me with the side of his body.”

Then, they witnessed the attack. “It wasn’t until my friend and I saw the guy and a bunch of his friends jump two black men who were also innocently walking by the Corner that I realized the guy and his friends might be neo-Nazi skinheads looking to incite racial violence,” Patterson wrote. “I was right.” 

If she needed further proof, Patterson watched as “virtually dozens of neo-Nazi newsletters” fell from one of the assailant’s pockets and “went flying out all over the sidewalk.” 

The fight didn’t last long before policemen, “who were in the right area at the right time,” put a stop to it. Patterson and her friend explained the situation to the police and then accompanied the two black men who had gotten jumped to the police station so they could explain what had happened.

Once at the station, they repeated their story to the magistrate, whose response was “frustrating.” 

“We … were told unless we were absolutely positive we could identify the men, there was nothing we could do,” Patterson wrote. The same was told to the two men involved in the attack. “Those two guys who were brutally jumped because they were black could have put away at least one or two of the neo-Nazis; but because of fear and a definite lack of encouragement on the part of the magistrate, the case was eventually dropped.”

“At that point,” Patterson wrote, “I started to get angry. I felt like the magistrate was subtly trying to dissuade us from taking action against the Nazis.”

Just “because someone is on the ‘side of the law’ and works for the police department doesn’t necessarily mean he is completely impartial and objective, even though he is supposed to be,” she said. “I firmly believe the magistrate used what little power he could to dissuade those two young men from pressing charges.” 

Patterson wasn’t sure whether the magistrate was racially motivated not to act, but regardless, “the magistrate was condescending, intimidating and ultimately lacking in objectivity. In a town filled with so much racial and class tension, the last thing we need is a magistrate who is either lazy or racially insensitive.”


In her 26 years of post-grad life since the article’s publication, Patterson has made some major changes. A married woman, she goes by Barbara Roy. She lives with her family in California, where she works as a publicist for a small entertainment firm. Charlottesville and the University, which she attended from 1989 to 1993, are not often on her mind. Even some details of the incident have faded somewhat from her mind after a quarter of a century.

“I remember the incident very, very well … but the whole aftermath was much more hazy,” Roy said in a phone interview. The sensation of “feeling frustrated” was stuck in her mind, but she admitted that she didn’t “really remember” the magistrate as the source of that frustration.

Although the assault is not as clear in her mind as it once was, it has had lasting repercussions on her adult life. For one, Roy said, it helped her decide to leave the city after graduation. 

“I had a nice little apartment that was close to the Corner, and I had come to really like Charlottesville,” she said. But after a conversation with her father — in which he encouraged her to move on — combined with the assault, she had to rethink her desire to stay. 

“In many ways [the incident] sort of left a bad taste in my mouth,” Roy said. “It was right before graduation and it was a pretty eye-opening and upsetting experience … I was ready to leave.”

After leaving Charlottesville, Roy briefly returned to her birthplace of Massachusetts and then worked alternately in California and D.C., jumping from coast to coast until settling in California in 1998. She and her family have been to visit friends in D.C. a few times since then, Roy said, but she’s never returned to Charlottesville.

Staying away from her alma mater isn’t “that intentional,” she said. “It wasn’t one of those things where I was like, ‘I’m never going back there again.’ It’s definitely not that. Charlottesville is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been … But looking back on it now, I do have some mixed feelings about whether it was the right place for me culturally.”

An English major, Roy said she loved the academics at the University. But coming from a multicultural background — a Jamaican father, a British mother and what she called an “international” hometown — the University seemed “very racially segregated.”

Outright discrimination because of her race or gender was not common for Roy in her time as an undergrad, she explained, but she described sometimes “feeling like I had to prove myself intellectually, academically having a place … that I didn’t just get in because of the color of my skin.”

And although she didn’t frequently experience discrimination, she could still recall a specific instance. Either in her third or fourth year — the details are somewhat obscure in this case, as well — Roy went with friends to a “predominately white” frat party somewhere on Rugby Road and was met with a surprise.

“I remember a bunch of the guys were in blackface — the traditional, minstrel blackface aesthetic,” she said. “I do remember feeling kind of stunned, just stunned. Like, why are these guys doing this? … It just felt really wrong.”

The racism Roy experienced in the University community, whether subtle or explicit, did little to prepare her for the display of violence she witnessed on the Corner. She said that, prior to the incident, she was unaware of a neo-Nazi presence in Charlottesville. “That’s what was so strange about it … I had no idea that they were there.”

In her Viewpoint piece, Roy wrote that “it is imperative for students to know Charlottesville isn’t the safe, quaint college town it is often made out to be.” A similar thought was on her mind, she said, when she tuned into the news in August 2017. The attack she had witnessed was the first thing that came to her mind. 

“These horrible people are descending on Charlottesville again,” she said. “I can’t believe it.” 

She acknowledged that August 11 and 12 constituted “way more of a horrific event” than her undergrad experience, but she couldn’t help but see the parallel. 

“The fact that people kind of subscribe to this notion of white supremacy, racial purity, whatever whatever, that they feel empowered and emboldened to come to Charlottesville and really put together a large congregation of people who subscribe to that ideology,” she said. “It just really struck a chord and made me really sad.”


Roy’s article did not go into extensive detail about what was happening in the community. 1993 articles from The Daily Progress help provide more information about the incident and others like it.

In the March 12, 1993 article “Neo-Nazi, friend charged in separate acts of violence,” the local paper describes both the incident witnessed by Roy — which, according to the article, took place March 6 of that year — and another assault committed by a different neo-Nazi which took place March 11.

This latter event involved 19-year-old Eric Hoffman, a neo-Nazi who lived in Charlottesville at the time, and a Puerto Rican man who in the article is referred to only as Edgar to protect the identity of himself and his family. According to the article, Edgar, who was in his early 20s, had been receiving death threats from Hoffman and a few other men. These escalated to an invasion of Edgar’s home March 11, when Hoffman and two others held a gun to the Puerto Rican man’s head and attempted to kill him. Edgar was able to escape by using a gun of his own that he had recently bought for fear of his life, although he did not shoot anyone, and Hoffman was taken into custody under the charge of attempted murder.

This article also described the March 6 attack witnessed by Roy, which had not yet been reported on by The Daily Progress. According to the article, one man — 23-year-old Christopher Andrew Tolley — was arrested that night on the Corner and taken into custody. 

Tolley, a self-described “Nazi and a semi-active skinhead,” argued his innocence in the incident. He denied the claim made against him that he had been handing out pamphlets for “The New Order,” a Lincoln, Nebraska-based white supremacist group founded by infamous neo-Nazi Gary Lauck. Instead, he said, he was helping another man pick up papers on the Corner “when he was hit from behind by two black men.”

The paper provided a quote from Tolley in which he attempted to prove his innocence. “‘I may be a bit crazy, but I’m not stupid,’” he said. “‘I’m not going to attack two big black guys.’”

Both incidents, however, clearly had some level of racial motivation. When Hoffman and his accomplices broke into Edgar’s home, the Puerto Rican man quoted Hoffman as saying, “‘You are all s–cs and we’re white, and it won’t stick.’”

The two men also knew each other. Tolley was visiting Hoffman from out of town and had been staying at his apartment at the time of his arrest.

The day after the article describing these two attacks was published, The Daily Progress ran a follow-up piece entitled “Police: Band of neo-Nazis is formed.” The article claimed that “a small band of neo-Nazi skinheads has organized in the Charlottesville area and may be responsible for a growing number of what could be racially motivated attacks on minorities.”

This information was provided by Detective Robert Frazier, who at the time had been monitoring local neo-Nazi activity. “‘There are about 10 to 15 local skinheads in the area right now,’” Frazier said in the article. Some of them were apparently even younger than the 19-year-old Hoffman — a teenage eyewitness to the March 6 attack claimed “he recognized some of the skinheads” as his classmates at Albemarle High School.

The police department had received reports that the skinheads were practicing “military-style drills” in various parts of the city, but at the time of the article’s publication, these were not confirmed. Frazier did say, however, that the Charlottesville neo-Nazis were the “foot soldiers of the Nazi party.” He also said of the group, “They are trying to ignite a white revolt.”


Roy’s Viewpoint piece was the first of several articles published by The Cavalier Daily which addressed the neo-Nazi activity in Charlottesville. News briefs describing rallies like “Concerned Black Students,” organized by the Black Student Alliance, were published, along with a variety of Viewpoint pieces concerning race relations in the student community.

Alfred Toole — who, at the time, was a second-year in the college and vice chair for programs in the Black Student Alliance — published one such piece on April 23, 1993. Entitled “Voice of concern for every student,” the article described a few different University-oriented issues, with the March 6 attack at its center, and how the BSA dealt with each of them. 

“In the case of the neo-Nazis,” Toole wrote, “many people will blow them off. In a few weeks, the uproar will all die down and disappear.”

He criticized the “University community’s apathy” regarding the attacks. “Does someone have to be killed before we consider acting? One attack is one too many.”

Toole also expressed hope that “students at the University can get beyond race. We must learn to have compassion not only for our race but also for our fellow man.” He finished his appeal by acknowledging that the BSA is not infallible, using the organization’s missteps and subsequent reevaluation as a universal model. “The past is a hard thing to forget; it shouldn’t be forgotten,” he wrote. “But people must not dwell on the past; we must live in the present. And we must learn from the past.”

Toole’s post-grad life has followed a drastically different trajectory than that of Roy. After taking some classes at the University’s law school, he decided to drop out and work in the city instead. Toole worked briefly as a paralegal but soon moved to the two fields which would dominate his adult life — the school and the church.

Today, he’s devoted nearly two decades to the public school systems of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and the same amount of time to Waynesboro Church of Christ. Toole currently works full-time as a Learning Technology Integrator and part time as the church’s youth minister.

According to Toole, both jobs center around a goal he first realized during his time as an undergrad, through BSA — to “have a positive impact by serving.” 

“The Black Student Alliance raised awareness and … made the present and the future better,” Toole said. This mission statement led him to get involved with the BSA, and it also led him to write the Viewpoint concerning the neo-Nazi activity. 

Much of the piece speaks of cyclical human behavior — getting upset about an instance of discrimination or racially-motivated violence, only to forget about it until the next incidence occurs. As someone who’s spent his entire adult life in the Charlottesville area, Toole is no stranger to this sort of behavior. He’s not judgmental of it, though. 

“I think all of us fall into patterns of normalcy just so we can function and survive,” Toole said. “I don’t think anyone could sustain a fever pitch reaction.”

More important, he explained, is how people react whenever the newest act of discrimination is committed. “When you have those cycles that happen, where are you on the continuum? Are you one of the people who move the needle, or do you let other people move the needle?”

His choice of language brings to mind the words of Dave Matthews at his historic Concert for Charlottesville, when he said, “I feel like tonight maybe moved the needle a little bit in a good direction.” Matthews’ activism, however — that is, activism which presents itself in the form of a star-studded musical event with fanfare to spare — is not the sort of community service which interests Toole.

For a better understanding of Toole’s motivations, just consider what he wants written on his tombstone, according to his website — “Here lies the stone sunk that caused all those ripples.” Toole doesn’t want to be in the limelight, he explained, “but I do want to make sure I’ve had an impact wherever I’ve been.”

Despite loving the “community aspect” of Charlottesville and its “slower pace of life,” Toole acknowledged that the city has a lot of areas that can, and need to benefit from positive impacts. When he witnessed the events of Aug. 11 and 12, he said, he had no idea that the tragedy would be on such a large scale. 

“As a graduate of U.Va., I was outraged, I was shocked, I was embarrassed, I was in some ways ashamed,” Toole said.

He was quick to criticize, however, the correspondingly large-scale media coverage of the rallies, arguing that such a focus on the negative “made it seem like we were back a couple decades to a lot of people.” As befits his character and his professions, Toole thought there should have been more emphasis on the “overwhelming response” from the community that he first described seeing at Heather Heyer’s funeral. 

“Yes, you have this horrible event that happened,” Toole said. “But you also have this amazing outpouring of love and … people saying, ‘This is not welcome in our community. This is unacceptable.’”

The reduction of Charlottesville to “a hashtag” frustrates Toole. It’s a trend he’s noticed of both media organizations and the country at large failing to see the “larger systems at work.” 

Toole cited several instances from his life which he said pointed towards larger issues. When he was a law school student, the O.J. Simpson trial was taking place. Toole said he was struck by the irony of his white classmates suddenly bemoaning the “failure” of the criminal justice system when Simpson was acquitted, while Toole had continually criticized the same system for charging racial minorities for crimes they had not committed. “It was like a total flip-flop.”

Similarly, Toole discussed the larger problems associated with the racial “achievement gap” which he has experienced firsthand through his public school employment. “I shouldn’t be able to predict that an African-American male is probably gonna flunk geometry…” he said. “Those numbers shouldn’t be predictive but they still are.”

Toole neatly summed up his anxieties about larger systems by returning to the idea of patterns in a community. “When we realize a paradigm is not working the way it’s supposed to or seems to be fostering a negative pattern, how do we change that to be a positive pattern?”


In a Daily Progress article published March 23, 1993 and titled “Charge against neo-Nazi dropped,” Tolley’s court case and its dismissal are briefly described. The judge — possibly Roy’s “magistrate,” though this is not verified — dropped the case since it “wasn’t clear from testimony who started a fight.” Tolley said he planned to leave town soon afterwards. Judging by the lack of subsequent articles published about him, he seems to have made good on this promise.

So what became of the local neo-Nazis and their planned “white revolt?” According to The Daily Progress, nothing — mentions of the radical hate group allegedly forming in Charlottesville virtually disappear after the March 13 article identifying them. Maybe their newfound publicity spooked the supremacists enough to make them retreat back to the shadows of society. Detective Frazier, the policeman who was quoted as tracking the group’s activity, died in 2002, so asking him was not possible.

Frazier did say in the March 13 article that “the Charlottesville skinhead group isn’t that active until friends from out of town visit,” mimicking the “out of town” rhetoric that some attempted to use in the wake of Aug. 11 and 12 to absolve Charlottesville of racial guilt. Another strange parallel between the neo-Nazi incidents — purely coincidental, it seems, but still unusual — is that Spike Lee made his first visit to the University about a month after the events on the Corner. The next time he would return to speak publicly in Charlottesville would be in Nov. 2017, when he said, “If we don’t acknowledge the history of this country, we can’t move forward” — in itself, a mirror of Toole’s 1993 suggestion to “live in the present” and “learn from the past.”

In her article, Roy urged “students to know Charlottesville isn’t the safe, quaint college town it is often made out to be.” Decades later, Toole watched with dismay as his city “became a hashtag.” Essentially, both are arguing against the same thing — reduction of a place to one or two of its qualities, whether positive or negative, fails to adequately depict the place.

There are always larger forces at play, Toole said, and he’s focused his adult life on addressing them. He has his community — a flawed, complicated community, but a community nonetheless — to help him in his efforts.  “Sometimes you want to dig up a root and you keep digging, but the root is just so big … bigger than you thought,” Toole said. “My hope would be that when people are digging at these systems and trying to dig them up, they take breaks and pass the shovel to other people who can help.”

Catching the Shadow

The ‘Kitty’ Foster Memorial

Words by Kasey Roper. Photos by Riley Walsh.

“At this place, on the site of Catherine Foster’s home, this ‘Shadow Catcher’ links the visible with the unseen even as it pulls the eyes to the sky; it creates a shadowy, grid-like outline of the house that once stood at this location,” reads a plaque directly outside the Shadow Catcher Memorial honoring the household of Foster, a free black woman who bought the property in 1833.

The metal structure is between Nau Hall and Olson Student Health, almost directly behind what is now New Cabell Hall and Old Cabell Hall. There are cylindrical metal poles holding up the “roof” of the memorial — a collection of thin, flat metal beams that criss-cross over the ground above what used to be the home of Catherine “Kitty” Foster and her family. These structures cast a shadow in the shape of the house, reminding us of its presence.

However, the history of the Foster Site was largely unknown prior to 1993. It was only when construction workers beginning to expand a parking lot where Nau Hall stands discovered evidence of burials — coffins and remains — that the history of the land was evaluated. The remains were left undisturbed, but the historic investigation began.


“That was the beginning of the consciousness of the Foster family,” said Brian Hogg, senior historic preservation planner in the Office of the Architect.

A task force spearheaded by the Department of Anthropology and the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro- American and African Studies was formed to do initial archeological and historical research into the site. The team determined that the University had an obligation to further investigate the site for historical and local significance. Rivanna Archeological Services, a local firm run by two alumni of the University, was brought in to complete a formal archaeological survey, which was estimated to cost somewhere between $50,000 and $150,000 in the task force’s original notes. These records can be found in the Special Collections Library at Peabody Hall.

What initial archaeological and historical research discovered — buttons, thimbles, dolls, cobblestones, bowls and more — revealed the life of a free black seamstress and her family.  

Rivanna Archeological Services’ work led to the Foster Site being added to the Virginia Landmarks Register for archeology as well as the National Register for Historic Places.

Foster started her business working as a seamstress and launderer for students and faculty of the University, which was a job previously done mostly by enslaved laborers behind the Pavilions. In the 19th century, laundry was not as simple as it is today — rather than tossing clothes into a machine and coming back to toss them into another machine an hour later, washing clothes was a very labor-intensive, all-day task. Workers sorted clothes, carried buckets of water, built fires to boil the water, stirred and washed each large load of laundry, scrubbed each individual piece of clothing, rinsed the clothes, rung out extra water from them by hand, hung them to dry and occasionally mended tears and sewed buttons onto the fabric.

The entire design of the original Foster Site — originally known as the Venable Lane Site — was directed toward these laundering practices. There is evidence of a large cobbled work area near the house to prevent the ground from becoming muddy while working with large amounts of water.


Foster was an important presence just south of the University during its formative years. Not only was she an entrepreneur, but she was a free land-owning black woman as well. During the 1830’s, it was rare for African American women to own property, even in upper Southern states like Virginia. Foster purchased 2 ⅛ acres of land in 1833. Three generations of Fosters — all headed by women — lived on and improved the land, even renting it out to tenants, until 1906, when it was sold to white land developers.

In the early 20th century, the University purchased land around the Lawn in an attempt to hide the black community.

“Up to the 1890s, it is a neighborhood that is mixed in terms of who lives there,” said Kirt von Daacke, co-chair of both the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University and the President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation. “It’s not all free, it’s not all enslaved, not all black, not all white.”

As the Jim Crow Era of segregation solidified, the neighborhood became predominantly black.

This community was vital to the functioning of the University because enslaved and minimally-paid laborers alike built and maintained Grounds. This was not by accident. The opening of the University in 1825, von Daacke said, attracted a diverse group of workers who settled just south of the Lawn in what is referred to as “Canada.”

The term Canada appears in census reports from the 1850s as well as in notes from Board of Visitors’ meetings during the same time frame. The exact origin and meaning of the nickname Canada is unknown. Some theorize that it pays homage to the country that housed runaway slaves prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Others argue that it is a degrading term meant to emphasize the different, foreign nature of these “other” people who supported the University.

“Canada is a kind of a derisive reference to free people who [the University faculty and students] think really should be enslaved,” von Daacke said.

The Fosters lived in Canada — they’re listed as residents of it in census records — and thus had deep ties to the community and the people living there. The 12 remains found during construction were initially thought to be part of a Foster family graveyard, but as more remains were found — 32 in all — researchers realized that it was more likely a community graveyard.

Canada remained a community that housed those who supported the functioning of the University. However, just as a shadow changes its composition throughout the course of a day, the community’s composition shifted from one of a largely mixed neighborhood to a predominantly black neighborhood over the course of the nineteenth century.

This was difficult because Canada was not University-owned property, so the University really had no control over the interactions students had with the community.

The University saw the community as a “pest hole,” according to von Daacke, and sought to limit University students’ involvement with it.

When choosing between three separate designs for the South Lawn — only one of which closed off the Lawn — the Board of Visitors decided on the one that closed off the Lawn. The result of that decision is Old Cabell Hall, which New Cabell Hall was eventually built around. These buildings would have blocked sight of and access to Canada from the University as well.


The relationship between residents of Canada and the University is complicated because of racism, white supremacy and mutual dependence. The University needed residents to function, just as the residents need the University for work. Students also relied on Canada for products and activities they were prohibited from doing on Grounds.

For example, Canada was where students went to drink alcohol, gamble and interact with their enslaved servants, who were not allowed to live on Grounds. They also went to Canada to practice shooting their firearms.

Additionally, residents of Canada were employed by the University for various tasks, including cobbling, cooking, cleaning and more.

Von Daacke explained how this tension between the residents of Canada and the University — both free and enslaved — transferred to working at the University.

“To take those jobs is to require that [the residents of Canada] interact with — on a daily basis — hundreds of white would-be masters and young U.Va. students who are in the middle of identity formation as the master class, who feel very comfortable treating every person of color they meet as an enslaved person and using violence to dominate them,” von Daacke said.

Interactions with the University, therefore, did not come without risks for the residents of Canada.


The Shadow Catcher Memorial represents the story of a woman who stood in the face of racism and white supremacy, took advantage of several economic opportunities and succeeded in creating an established, private home for herself and her family for generations.

“The [memorial was built as] recognition that this is really kind of an amazing story,” Hogg said. “She’s a free black woman in the 1830s in Charlottesville. She had enough money to purchase that property when many of the people around her were renting, and she and her family managed to own the property for 75 years.”

He concluded by calling Foster “an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Yet the memorial also represents the enduring Canada community, a place of interracial coexistence as well as a crucial part of understanding the University’s relationship with the larger Charlottesville area. This is where the University’s interest was peaked when initial investigations into the site were ongoing. Not only were the Foster Site and the Canada community important to the development of the University, but they were also important to the complex tale of slavery, racism, freedom and the tightrope walked in between.


If the memorial is a literal shadow, how can we catch it?

Upon first glance, the site does not declare its significance loudly, as the Berlin Wall outside Alderman Library does. Second-year nursing student Rosie Ix passed by the Shadow Catcher on her way to class in McLeod Hall.

“I didn’t realize this was a memorial,” Ix said. “I guess I’m always walking through here just trying to get somewhere.”

Lack of awareness about the site raises questions about the University’s efforts to make its history known — especially its history tied to racism and slavery. Von Daacke explained that the University has increased its efforts to make its history with racism and slavery transparent. The Shadow Catcher Memorial, he suggests, is not well known because of the design of the South Lawn.

Jefferson Park Avenue divides Nau and Gibson Hall from Central Grounds, and students typically use a bridge to travel between the two areas. The memorial is located on the Nau and Gibson side, away from the bridge, so students are not typically positioned to walk past the Shadow Catcher Memorial. Conversely, the Berlin Wall Memorial is in Central Grounds, where many students, faculty, locals and visitors alike have more opportunities to walk past it.

Matilda Olbin, a third-year exchange student from Sweden studying Sociology, is not an expert on the memorial, but is generally interested in history. She thinks memorials allow history to be interpreted and not just lectured or rehearsed.

“It’s more solid, I guess you can make your own idea about it,” Olbin said. “If someone tells you about it, it’s gonna be their story.”

To Olbin, it is more inviting to experience history in the present. That is what the Shadow Catcher is trying to evoke — a visual perceived differently by each passerby in each moment.


Even in the early stages of the creation of the Foster Site, the Charlottesville community was actively involved in the conversation of what to do and how. Meetings were held to receive feedback from the community, and press releases were given to update the community on archeological findings and decisions, such as the decision to halt construction for the parking lot until further research could be done.

The University is still engaged with the Charlottesville community and thinks critically about its relationship to the area. For example, President Jim Ryan created a Community Working Commission last October made up of local residents to identify key issues within the area and help address them together.

The top issue listed in a report released in January is affordable housing in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. This is relevant to the University because if it does not provide enough housing, then it pushes people off Grounds and drives prices up for everyone.  

The other top issue, non-living wages for University employees, has a direct link to the early years of the University and the Jim Crow Era, when it had no obligation to pay high wages.

“They [did] not feel compelled to, nor [did] they have to, pay a living wage,” von Daacke asserts. “This is a legacy we’re still talking about in Charlottesville today where [there is] steep income inequality.”


The Shadow Catcher is a reminder of the University’s deep historical connection to the local community, as well as to institutions of racism and white supremacy.

Other memorials in Charlottesville also directly connect to these institutions, evoking controversy over the glorification of pro-slavery figures. Most notably, the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park has been debated since 2016 when city councilor Wes Bellamy proposed a commission to discuss the statue and local African-American high school students petitioned City Council, asking for the statue’s removal because they felt it was offensive. The debate reached a violent head when the Unite the Right Rally came to Charlottesville on Aug. 11, 2017 partly to protest the statue’s removal.

On Grounds, the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the West Lawn was vandalized with the words “Racist+Rapist” criticizing Jefferson’s slave-owning practices the night before the 275th anniversary of his birth. Both memorials have sparked charged discussions and confrontations about how to best represent Charlottesville’s history of racism.

But the Shadow Catcher memorial represents a different kind of narrative coming out of the same history — one of resilience.

“It’s an amazing success story when you look at Catherine Foster,” von Daacke said, because she succeeded despite being surrounded by “pro-slavery ideologues.”  

This shadow the memorial casts is our history. As time passes and things change, so does the placement of the shadow around the Foster House. The position of the sun changes our perception, as well as the prominence, of the history present there. Yet we are also attached to it directly — we cannot separate it from ourselves nor our present.

There are certainly times, however, when we cannot see the shadow, when we are not aware of our past or how it affects us.

“I pass here every day almost, but I’ve never stopped except for now,” Olbin explained.

There are other times when our past and present line up nearly exactly. This overlap of time and space is physically represented by the Shadow Catcher.

“Every once in a while, the light is such that … the shadow cast is the exact footprint of the house,” Hogg said.

In these moments, the sun is in the exact position to cast a shadow on the still-present, though hidden, foundation of the Foster House. In some moments, we understand clearly the effects of our history on the present.

“The Shadow Catcher is meant to evoke the presence of the house, but also reflect transience because the house is gone and all that’s left is a shadow,” Hogg said.