December 10 Press Conference, 12:30 at Lumpkin's Jail

On Thursday, Dec. 10, designated by the United Nations as International Human Rights Day, in first year of the International Decade for People of African Descent, five people with special ties to Richmond history will hold a press conference in Richmond at the site of Lumpkin's Jail to press the case for a nine-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park.

The confirmed speakers, in alphabetical order, are:
PAMELA BINGHAM – Descendant of Richmond's slave-rebellion leader Gabriel; Member, Bingham Family Association
ANA EDWARDS – Chair, Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, whose ancestors include two women sold from Richmond in the 1840s
ELIZABETH CANN KAMBOURIAN – Richmond Historian who rediscovered the existence of the African Burial Ground and has identified nearly 100 sites related to the Shockoe Bottom slave trade
JOHN MITCHELL – Great, great nephew of John Mitchell Jr., the “Fighting Editor” of the Richmond Planet newspaper
VERA J. WILLIAMS – Descendant of Solomon Northup, author of “12 Years a Slave”; Founder and President, Solomon Northup Foundation
At 6 p.m. that evening, the Richmond City Council “Slave” Trail Commission and Richmond Speaks will hold a “Public Forum” at the University of Richmond to go over the proposal by Mayor Dwight Jones for a memorial on the site of Lumpkin's Jail, the most notorious of the many slave jails once located in Shockoe Bottom. We are encouraging peope to attend this event as well. (https://www.facebook.com/events/1676488599261521/)

“We appreciate the fact that Mayor Jones is finally moving to memorialize the important site once known as the Devil's Half-Acre,” said Ana Edwards. “But just focusing on this one site, important as it is, cannot possibly tell the whole story of Shockoe Bottom, which for years was the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade.

“The mayor's plan does not mention the future of the African Burial Ground. It does not provide any protection for the rest of Shockoe Bottom from inappropriate commercial development. It does not mention any of the heroic resistance to slavery exemplified by figures such as Gabriel, Madison Washington, Mary Bowser, Elizabeth Van Lew and the many others who risked and even gave their lives in the cause of freedom.

“Further, we are particularly disappointed that not one of the companies Mayor Jones is using to develop his plan is a Black-owned business.

“We also wonder why what is apparently the culmination of a series of Richmond Speaks meetings is being held at the University of Richmond, an elite private university far from the communities with the most direct connections to the history of Shockoe Bottom.”

The 18-page proposal for a Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park, with contrast drawings, can be found at: sacredgroundproject.net.

Message from ROB NIEWEG, National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Hello, all. On December 10th we hope you will participate in the Defenders’ press event at 12:30 pm at the Lumpkin’s Jail Site as well as the Richmond Speaks public meeting from 6:00 – 8:00 pm at the University of Richmond’s Jepson Alumni Center (49 Crenshaw Way, Richmond). Both the Richmond Times Dispatch and the Washington Post have reported the release of the Richmond Speaks draft report, which you can download from the Richmond Speaks website, here.

We encourage you to review the draft report in light of the community proposal for a Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park. On the one hand, the draft report contains many thoughtful comments from Richmond residents about Shockoe Bottom’s future. Like them, we appreciate the City’s effort to memorialize the Lumpkin’s Jail Site. On the other hand, it is clear that the City has not adequately considered the proposal for a Memorial Park. On page 12 of the draft report, for instance, the report asks, “What is the City doing to consider alternative Shockoe Bottom heritage site plans?” Then, the draft report responds:

“The Richmond Speaks engagement was initiated to gather feedback from across the city to understand options and alternatives for the Lumpkin’s Jail and related heritage sites. As a result of this outreach process, over a thousand Richmonders have been engaged, many that knew nothing about Richmond’s significance in the domestic slave trade. This included classroom visits at every Richmond High School. The result of those engagements are recorded in this report.”

In other words, the City’s current effort is limited – as we feared – to construction of a museum pavilion structure atop the Lumpkin’s Jail Site, and not the future of Shockoe Bottom more generally.

Indeed, the draft report appears to propose that the City postpone expanding the vision for stewardship of Shockoe Bottom until “funding becomes available.” That is, page 29 of the draft report proposes to postpone the “protection of the African Burial Ground,” to postpone ensuring only “appropriate commercial development” around the Lumpkin’s Jail Site, and to postpone “conducting a comprehensive master plan process in the Shockoe Bottom area” – until funding becomes available. Indeed, page 42 of the draft report makes clear that the Richmond Speaks team now will move on to plan, design, and construct a museum pavilion structure atop the Lumpkin’s Jail Site. Leaving a vision for the future of Shockoe Bottom for another day.

Thank you in advance for participating in the December 10th press event and public meeting to share your thoughts about the draft report and the future of Shockoe Bottom.

Suggested Talking Points -- Join us in asking that, in addition to envisioning a plan for Lumpkin’s Jail, Richmond save Shockoe Bottom and protect sacred ground. Please consider making the following points:
  1. I support the creation of a nine-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park which would respect and preserve the site as a historic place, sacred ground, and Site of Conscience. The Lumpkin’s Jail site is only a small fraction of Shockoe Bottom. Expanding the scope would give context, provide areas for contemplation, and honor the people and events. 
  2. I support an Interpretive Center that would combine the values of a traditional museum and offer innovative interpretive programming. We need a place that would acknowledge Richmond’s unvarnished history, recognize the continuing modern-day impacts of slavery, and promote interactive dialogue to move forward and embrace a just and peaceful world. 
  3. I support the development of a Master Plan for Shockoe Bottom that would incorporate archaeological investigation, heritage tourism planning, and sustainable economic redevelopment that is aligned with the City’s own 2011 Shockoe Economic Revitalization Strategy.