Former slave quarters spark discussion on Roanoke College campus

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SALEM, Va. (WDBJ7) Joseph McGill is taking a closer look at the bricks of Monterey Quarters.

"I know they are here. I know they are here," he said. "I've just got to find them."

He's looking for fingerprints of the slaves who constructed the building, and once lived there.

"It, to me, is the ancestors reaching to me and I'm reaching to them," He told WDBJ7. "And they're saying tell my story. We were here. Tell my story."

McGill is the founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, a nationally known non-profit working to identify and preserve former slave dwellings.

This week, he has also led a series of discussions on the legacy of slavery, including one by campfire Thursday night when students joined him at Monterey Quarters and spent the night.

"I hope that folks take away that it's okay to preserve these spaces, but it's even more significant or important that we interpret these spaces for what they are, what they started out as," McGill said. "Because if we can incorporate that into the narrative, then I think we can solve some of these problems that exist for us as a nation, as a people."

It's also a good starting point, he said, for a larger conversation on the legacy of slavery, and its impact on racial issues today.

Monterey is slated to become a museum. With the help of McGill and others, the college is considering how the former slave quarters will be used in the future.