Media Stories following March 27 City Council Meeting

Compiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Group fights to preserve Richmond slave burial ground hidden in plain sight
Outlet: WTVR (CBS-TV) (Richmond, VA)

Standing on the site of one of the country's oldest burial grounds for slaves, Ana Edwards, Chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, shares the historical significance of this grassy area sitting in the shadows of the Medical College of Virginia. "The gallows was here, so people were executed here and often buried here after execution," Edwards said. A couple of years ago more than three million dollars were spent to buy the land for the city, and the city removed asphalt and added lights and signage. But, currently, there aren't any plans to do anything else. Edwards along with an attorney from The National Trust For Historic Preservation, and dozens of supporters, asked city council and Mayor Levar Stoney to support a more comprehensive plan Monday night. "The National Trust see historic Shockoe Bottom as a national treasure," Robert Nieweg, a field attorney with National Trust for Historic Preservation said.

Battle continues over future of Shockoe Bottom
Outlet: WRIC (ABC-TV) (Richmond, VA)

How do we remember the horrors that were carried out in Shockoe bottom during the massive domestic slave trade? It’s a question the City of Richmond continues to struggle with. An advocacy group called the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality is asking the city to expand current plans for a memorial at the Lumpkin’s jail site. They envision a more expansive, nine-acre memorial park on the site. Robert Nieweg, Field Attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation, told council that his group “strongly supports the community-generated proposal for a memorial park.”

Community group contests Richmond's plans for Shockoe memorial
Outlet: WWBT (NBC-TV) (Richmond, VA)

There was a huge show of support for a community development project in Shockoe Bottom Monday night, as dozens of people held signs up at city council to support one of the proposals to memorialize slave history in the Bottom.

Ana Edwards, with the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, said the city's work to consider development of the Lumpkin's Slave Jail Site should only be a piece of this development. Edwards wants a memorial park and other lands designated as historical sites. She urged the city to meet with the longstanding community stakeholders to determine the best short term and long term plans for Shockoe. Her group says starting with the memorial park will be the best use of the money available now.

Richmond City Council votes to study Westwood Tract, advances fracking ban
Outlet: Richmond Times-Dispatch

And during the council’s public comment period, supporters of a slavery memorial park in Shockoe Bottom, who encouraged Mayor Levar Stoney to support a master plan for the area that “makes it clear that the Lumpkin’s Jail/Devil’s Half-Acre archaeology site is viewed as one phase in the development of a memorial park.”

Ana Edwards, a member of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality, said the group had requested a meeting with Stoney in February but had not heard back.

A spokesman for Stoney said the mayor must have missed the request, but “the mayor is happy to meet with her and her Defender group colleagues”:

“He also supports the concept of broader development of the Lumpkin’s site and believes community collaboration and consensus should help define future progress and projects that tell the story of this dark period in Richmond’s — and the nation’s — history.”

Todd Culbertson column: Reconciliation depends on acknowledging the truth about slavery
Outlet: Richmond-Times Dispatch

The law of unintended consequences manifests itself in many ways. Proposals to build a baseball stadium and related development in Shockoe Bottom energized citizens who preferred to commemorate — indeed acknowledge — slavery’s role in the history of state and nation. Public sentiment doomed the ballpark (and may have cost Jack Berry election as mayor). The debate now focuses on how best to remember slavery. This is not what boosters set out to do.

A planning team authorized to study a slave museum centered on Lumpkin’s jail (a holding pen for slaves) recently held a public meeting. The Times-Dispatch’s Ned Oliver reported an engaged turnout. Participants apparently favored an expansive approach, not one restricted to Lumpkin’s itself. The greater neighborhood deserves consideration, backers believe. “Planning team gets an earful,” the headline said. According to Waite Rawls, president of the American Civil War Museum Foundation: “I’ve been to dozens of these meetings, and at every one of them the broad consensus is that it should be bigger than Lumpkin’s jail, yet every time we get something back from the city, it says Lumpkin’s jail.”

A descendant of Gabriel, the Henrico leader of a slave revolt, agreed: “It cannot just be about the jail.” Pamela Bingham explained, “I’m here to represent the descendants of Gabriel. It is very important to my family that this be right.”

A comprehensive site carries the argument, although even that likely would prove insufficient. Humanity can bear only so much history. At least an expansive slavery monument would supply context lacking in the region’s monuments that glorify the slavocracy.

The Civil War led to emancipation and amendments that abolished slavery. Full citizenship remained elusive. Reconstruction ended too soon. The reinstitution of a social, economic and political system based on race depended to a considerable degree on either the falsification of history or a refusal to tell the whole story. Last year Charles Dew, a historian of slavery and race, appeared at the Library of Virginia to talk about his education as a racist and about the Bottom’s role in the national saga. Men, women and children were sold as though they were commodities. Dew’s research in Richmond has produced advertisements and bills of sale that resemble today’s commerce in retirement accounts and other investments. The slaves saw in their plight the tragedy of the children of Israel before Moses led them out of Egypt. Pharaohs had inhabited the Chesapeake. The waters of the Nile flowed through the James. In Exodus we read, “I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted; the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.” Nat Turner led a revolt in Southampton County. Richmond’s blacks fought in a just struggle.

Sven Beckert’s “Empire of Cotton: A Global History” analyzes a story seldom taught in American schools. Richmond stood at the epicenter. It also has an opportunity to exert national leadership in coming to grips with America’s original sin and with the protracted struggle to demonstrate that black lives matter. Douglas Freeman’s Lost Cause proved as damaging as James Kilpatrick’s Massive Resistance.

During the Depression an interviewer with the Works Progress Administration asked a former slave to compare slavery and freedom. “Truly son, the half has never been told,” the former slave replied. Edward Baptist used the answer in his extraordinary “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.” In 2015, Baptist told the full story in a presentation at The Times-Dispatch sponsored by the Richmond-based Initiatives of Change. Times-Dispatch editorials had cited Dew and Baptist when calling for truth and reconciliation. Indeed, reconciliation relies on truth. The Bottom is a place to tell it.

A slavery museum, trail and district belong on Richmond’s map. The nation’s map needs an engaged Richmond. Tuesday’s meeting indicated Richmond’s commitment. There is hope in the city. And we shall never hope in vain.