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5/23/20

All Four Mayoral Candidates Endorse the Memorial Park!

ALL FOUR RICHMOND MAYORAL CANDIDATES HAVE NOW ENDORSED THE COMMUNITY PROPOSAL FOR A 9-ACRE SHOCKOE BOTTOM MEMORIAL PARK


All four announced candidates for the November 2020 election for mayor of Richmond have now declared their support for the community-generated proposal for a nine-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park. 

With his statement today, Mayor Levar Stoney joins longtime memorial park supporter Richmond City Councilwoman Kimberly Gray and more recent supporters attorney Justin Griffin and entertainment promoter Tracey McLean in endorsing the community proposal designed to properly memorialize the downtown district that once was the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade.

Significantly, Mayor Stoney’s statement includes support for incorporating into the memorial park the three physical elements that make up the proposal: the 3.1-acre African Burial Ground; the 1.7-acre site of Robert Lumpkin’s slave jail, known as the Devil’s Half-Acre; and the two blocks east of the CSX railroad tracks between East Broad, East Grace and 17th streets where several other slave jails and other significant slave-trade-related sites once were located. 

The mayor’s statement also calls for including the park proposal in the Shockoe Bottom small-area plan now being developed by the Shockoe Alliance advisory group. It also calls for the city to provide financial support for the park’s development, while acknowledging the limitations the city is now facing in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Commenting on the endorsements, Sacred Ground Project Chair Ana Edwards said, “This now-unanimous endorsement of the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park proposal by all four declared mayoral candidates marks a significant step forward in the decades-long community struggle to reclaim and properly memorialize Shockoe Bottom, which for the three decades before the Civil War was the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade. 

“The Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project looks forward to working with all other interested parties, and in particular Richmond’s Black community, in making the vision of the memorial park a reality. Throughout this work, we will follow our commitment to respect the right to self-determination for oppressed peoples by continuing to promote the view that the descendant community must have the primary voice in, and reap the primary financial benefits from, the development of this sacred ground. 

“Moving forward in these concrete ways will help ensure that Richmond can approach its 300th anniversary having honestly confronted its shameful past, while moving forward to a more justice-oriented future.”

The Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project was founded in 2004 to guide the ongoing work of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality to reclaim and properly memorialize Shockoe Bottom, once the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade. 

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Copies of all four mayoral candidate statements, in alphabetical order:

KIMBERLY GRAY

W.E.B. Du Bois eloquently said. “The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.” As I think about this particular quote, it is without hesitation that I vehemently support a Slavery Memorial Park in Richmond. Very rarely do we have “real talk” about the atrocities of slavery and the generational consequences of bondage. A memorial park at the site of Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom that was central to the American slave trade must be a gathering place for all to remember, reflect, heal, and honor the lives of the men, women and children who were sold into bondage.  

I recognize that for many Richmonders, the history of the South is extremely difficult to talk about. Like so many schoolchildren, I learned of certain African-Americans and their contributions in February for Black History Month. As an adult, I have spent considerable time researching my family’s history. Not surprising, I am the descendant of enslaved people who likely experienced the slave market in Shockoe, known as the Devil’s Half-Acre.  

In the present day, too many children and adults are not knowledgeable about the important role slavery played in determining America’s path and the impact slavery still has on race relations, the economy and many other societal inequities. It is a hard traumatic discussion!  Trauma generates emotions and unless we process these emotions, the trauma stays with us. The Memorial Park is one of the greatest opportunities we have to tell the full history of African-Americans and begin the healing process for both the descendants of enslaved people and enslavers.  

Lastly, not only would the Memorial Park stand as an example of the importance of sacred sites in America, it provides a historic resource for future generations to remember the past. 

JUSTIN GRIFFIN

I absolutely endorse the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park proposal. If elected, I would champion the plan and make it a reality.

Imagine if we had spent as much time, money, and other resources on the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park as we did on the Navy Hill arena proposal.

I believe where you spend your time and money shows what you value. Richmond has a priorities problem, and it shows in the lack of attention to Shockoe Bottom.

Richmond should do everything it can to take its rightful place as the center of black history by telling the stories that deserve to be told but aren’t. Shockoe Bottom, the slave trade, and the birth of Virginia Union University from Lumpkin’s Jail after the Civil War should be the first step in that process.

This vision of Richmond’s future also should include a National Slave Museum and projects to depict Jackson Ward at its height.

The fact that the Memorial Park covers learning, remembering, reflecting, gathering, economic development, and economic empowerment shows that this plan is well-thought out, thoroughly considered, and was inclusively developed.

The Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park is not just a plan to remember our past but is a plan to build up our future.

I firmly believe that we must start today systematically building up this generation of Richmonders whose ancestors were systematically torn down. This plan does that in more ways than one.

Building the Memorial Park would not only be a great thing for Richmond, but for the entire country. It is amazing to me that the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park and the stories it would tell have been ignored by our elected officials. We deserve better. 

TRACEY MCLEAN

I would like to state for the record that I agree with this project, for more reasons than one. I would like to see this project be pushed forward towards completion. 

This Historical Project is beneficial to all of us. There is no reason not to support this project, when there has been a lot of support for things like breweries that only hold a financial significance, whereas this project holds historical, financial and possible healing for the Commonwealth.  

LEVAR STONEY

Throughout my time as Mayor, I have always supported efforts to tell the complete narrative of the dark and traumatic history of slavery in Richmond, to uplift inspiring stories of resistance – such as that of Brother Gabriel – and generate opportunities for equitable development that prioritize the preservation of our historic and sacred sites.

I am committed to continuing to work in partnership with key voices who have for years and decades dedicated themselves to ensuring Richmond’s story of strength and resilience is told, preserved, respected  and celebrated. These voices include leaders such as Delegate Delores McQuinn, City Council President Cynthia Newbille, Reverend Sylvester “Tee” Turner – along with other members of the Slave Trail Commission – as well as Ana Edwards of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project and others whose longtime work and passion have been focused on transforming Shockoe Bottom into a place that properly honors our enslaved African ancestors and freedom fighters and offers opportunities for education and hope for generations to come.

I am confident that we can and will make this happen in an innovative, inclusive and collaborative way. The creation of a Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park –  to serve as a site of conscience, memorialization, reflection and education through both greenspace and structural sites such as a heritage interpretive center or museum – gives us the opportunity to do just that. Such a space would encompass the sacred African Ancestral Burial Ground, the Lumpkin's Jail/Devil's Half Acre site and the two blocks east of the railroad tracks that contain significant, historical sites with future archaeological potential. This endeavor will help ensure we preserve and protect our hallowed spaces in Shockoe Bottom while providing an opportunity for Richmond residents and visitors to deepen their connection with the historical and cultural sacredness of the area and be inspired by the spirit and stories of our ancestors to fight the injustices of today.

I fully support the establishment of such an inclusive Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park and have requested that the Shockoe Alliance – a collective group of city and community stakeholders that I convened in 2018 to focus on memorialization, preservation and equitable development in Shockoe Bottom – incorporate this concept into the Small Area Plan for Shockoe Bottom. Richmond’s story of historic trauma and supreme resilience is a global one and it is time that we truly recognize and elevate our collective story in a way that will honor our enslaved ancestors who built this city and nation, and empower future generations. Once the epicenter of the insidious institution of slavery where women, men and children were tortured, bought and sold, Richmond will not only move toward more fully preserving our sacred spaces and telling a more holistic story of our past, but will continue to strive toward being an epicenter of hope, transformation, equity and justice.

The creation of a Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park will be a tremendous undertaking for our city, particularly the construction of what could be an extraordinary heritage center or museum, and will require that we all come together with the necessary resources to make it happen. Over the last several months, the City of Richmond has been diligently working to address the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial disparities both created and illuminated by this health crisis. The economic impact of this pandemic has forced us to make major adjustments to our city's budget, however, I am committed to doing what we can to turn this unique, collective vision into reality. This endeavor undoubtedly calls for a collaborative, community approach from a variety of stakeholders in order to bring this extraordinary vision into fruition. I am grateful for the continuous dedication of our local and state leaders, community advocates and organizations such as Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation who work to ensure that the rich historical narratives and powerful legacies of our fearless ancestors are never forgotten and that the spaces and places on which they lived, struggled, endured and triumphed are respected, honored and used to propel us into a better, more just tomorrow. I look forward to standing alongside all who are ready to make this important work happen. It is time.