Ellee Wynn was standing in the lobby of the partially completed Mount Vernon Library and Research Center, and she was tense: after all, 59 hours' worth of work -- crammed into three consecutive days -- was on the line.
Wynn was a member of one of 30 teams of Howard University architecture students, each comprising as many as 16 persons, that had designed architectural models for a contest held last week to select a memorial to be erected at the Mount Vernon graveyard of George Washington's slaves. So on this Tuesday evening as the judges weighed their decision, Wynn reflected nervously on her travails.
"The first day I was screaming at the top of my lungs," said the 20-year-old architecture student. "I had strong feelings and another person on her team had strong feelings. Our ideas were totally opposite. And this was just the theme we were arguing about -- not even the design. After eight hours, though, we settled it."
When the 10 judges, representing the Fairfax County NAACP, the Howard University School of Architecture and Planning, and the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, owners of Mount Vernon, finally emerged, Wynn, a member of two design teams, had not won. But by both her account and that of the judges, it was a success all the same.
"I'm so proud of the results," said Frances Guy of Richmond, regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, which established a $2,500 revolving student loan program at Howard's architecture and planning school in exchange for the students' participation. "Establishing this memorial is really important to the association and to the community. The hardest thing of all was to choose the winner."
Wynn was pleased, too. One of the two entries she worked on received an honorable mention.
"At least I'll get a good grade," she added.
The idea for a memorial came last year after the area's black community complained that the slaves buried on the site were not properly memorialized. At the time, the only memorial to them was a small brick and concrete structure, overgrown with vegetation and forgotten for nearly 50 years. Last February the site was cleared, a gravel path was laid, and two park benches were installed.
Area black leaders, particularly the NAACP, felt that a more dignified memorial was called for, however, and the design competition took shape three weeks ago.
Teams of Howard architectural students were swiftly formed, and then, from 10 a.m. Tuesday of that week to 9 p.m. two days later, classes were suspended. By that time, 30 models had been designed and rendered in a frenzy.
Wynn, for instance, was able to snatch only six hours of sleep during the three-day push. But, driven by the promise of having her name etched into the memorial for posterity if her teams' designs won, and by the reality that the work would be graded as part of her class assignments, Wynn holed up with her teammates in Howard's design studio.
In the end, it took three hours of judging before the panel decided on entry No. 21, which was designed and built by a team headed by David Edge, 28.
That design shows a colonial-style brick arch through which a tree-lined walk leads to a brick circle. In the center of the circle is a broken column, surrounded by three rings that represent faith, hope and love. The column represents the strength of the slaves, cut off to symbolize "unbound, continuing greatness" of black people.
An awards luncheon will be held sometime in the coming weeks. Construction, for which the association has set aside $10,000, is expected to begin sometime next summer.