First news story on Richmond's 2nd African Burial Ground

Passenger Rail Project Slated To Run Through Richmond African American Graveyard

July 25, 2019 -- Jordy Yager

More than 20 people are gathered at the foot of a large hill, near Gilpin Court, on the other side of the historically white Shockoe Hill Cemetery.

Emily Stock, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s (DRPT) manager of rail planning, organized the group to talk about a high-speed rail project called “DC2RVA” that it wants to construct here.

“The DC2RVA project started in 2014,” says Stock to the group. “And we met many of you all through the process.”

Most of the academics, archaeologists, preservationists, museum directors, advocates and others in the group are here because for more than a year family historian Lenora McQueen has meticulously researched this place, emailing the group regular updates as she has helped uncover its hidden past.

In 2017, McQueen came to Charlottesville from her home in Texas to speak at a slavery symposium at the University of Virginia. While in Virginia, she took a trip to the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, where she learned that her fourth great grandmother was buried in the city around 1857. But she did not recognize the graveyard, so she looked at a map, punched the location into her GPS and set out to find it.[Read full article]

Click here for a history of the 2nd African Burial Ground (aka "Free Burying Ground for Free People of Color and Slaves")

Shockoe Alliance 2nd Public Meeting

The City of Richmond is seeking your input about the future of historic Shockoe Bottom. To its credit, the City is asking, “What are your BIG IDEAS?”

To answer the City’s question -- now, while Shockoe’s small area plan is being written by the City’s Department of Planning and Development – public advocacy is needed to promote the community-generated concept for the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park. That is, an expansive memorial park that marries preservation, commemoration, education, and equitable revitalization at a scale proportionate to Shockoe Bottom’s nationally significant heritage.

On July 17 the City convened its second public meeting about Shockoe’s small area plan. The meeting room was full of community members. After brief remarks, the community members engaged in dynamic conversations at facilitated tables in the too-noisy room. The City’s goal for the meeting was public discussion about how to physically implement big-picture themes like “history and culture,” “architecture and great placemaking,” and “great spaces: parks and public spaces.”

To share your thoughts, the City’s Shockoe Alliance can be reached via: 900 E Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219; (804) 646-7915; shockoealliance@gmail.com.

Memorialization and education are the community’s highest priority. For the community, the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park is “the ONE thing” that must be included in Shockoe’s small area plan.

It’s essential to understand that “Education and memorialization around Shockoe’s history” is the community’s top priority, according to the City’s survey data. Importantly, “the ONE thing” that the community believes must be included in the City’s small area plan is the “Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park (not simply Lumpkin’s Jail),” again according to the City’s survey data.

Given the central importance of the community’s top priorities, here are a few takeaways about the City’s July 17 public meeting:

Historic Districts:

The City’s base map and reference booklet to inform the July 17 public discussion do not show existing historic districts already researched and designated in Shockoe Bottom. See, here and below, for the overlapping historic districts that cover the City’s Shockoe study area. The base map for July 17 does point to the linear Slave Trail and a handful of individual historic sites. (And, the reference booklet shows Shockoe’s real estate development potential and the neighborhood’s “unbuilt” and “built” spaces.) But the City’s July 17 material does not show Shockoe’s blanket of local, state, and federal historic districts.

In the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s view, the challenge for Shockoe’s small area plan is: How to manage change within a neighborhood that is comprehensively historic. Not simply how to connect disparate historic points within a non-historic study area. More work is needed to ensure that the full historic value of Shockoe is recognized and protected.


Surprisingly, the City’s base map and reference booklet for July 17 do not mention archaeology or the need for a comprehensive archaeological investigation as a necessary next step. The City’s materials for July 17 point to one archaeological site: Lumpkin’s Slave Jail / Devil’s Half-Acre. This is an important site, certainly, in a neighborhood which has high potential for additional archaeological remains that reflect Shockoe’s unvarnished heritage. See, here, for the City’s Complete Composite Map showing multiple archaeological sites in the study area.

Archaeology is a key opportunity “to promote awareness and understanding of the significant history of Shockoe,” per Mayor Stoney’s Shockoe Alliance vision statement.

Memorial Park Concept: 

Unfortunately, the City’s base map and reference booklet for July 17 contain no meaningful information about the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park concept. In fact, the City’s presentation slide acknowledging several other “new, creative BIG IDEAS [that the community] would like to see incorporated into a plan for Shockoe” does not mention the Memorial Park concept, a proposal that has been introduced and re-introduced in every public forum sponsored by the City about Shockoe.

For the July 17 public discussion, the City’s reference materials point to the Pulse Corridor Plan, Shockoe Valley Streets Plan, Richmond Bike Master Plan, and the design of the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail site. Despite the City’s good intentions, which we assume, the City’s printed materials for July 17 did not prompt discussion by community members on how to physically implement the community-generated concept for the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park. This was a missed opportunity to fully engage a BIG IDEA.
The City’s Pulse Corridor Plan recommends that the City “identify opportunities for new park space through the use of City-owned land” and that the City “continue efforts to commemorate, memorialize, and interpret sites of historical and cultural significance.” Importantly, Mayor Stoney’s Shockoe Alliance vision statement calls for the creation of “unique public spaces” for “memorialization, interpretation, preservation, and education.” This is a good beginning, generally.

On July 17 the City asked, specifically: “What does success look like for Shockoe?” In the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s view, success for Shockoe depends upon well-informed public dialogue and a full understanding of Shockoe’s historic resources, archaeological remains, as well as the community-generated proposal for a Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park.