The African Burial Ground is located at 15th and E. Broad streets in the historic Shockoe Bottom neighborhood, home of Richmond's original 32-block footprint, laid out by William Mayo at the commission of city founder William Byrd, in 1737. Known only as a "Burial Ground for Negroes" on an 1809 surveyor's map of Richmond, Richmond's African Burial Ground was active from before 1750 through 1816. It is notable for being Richmond's first municipal cemetery that was open to the burials of Black people, and for being the site of the city gallows where many of the members of the slave revolt of 1800 were hanged, including its principle organizer and strategist, 24-year old enslaved blacksmith Gabriel, known at the time as "General Gabriel", on Oct. 10, 1800. His burial place is unknown.
Long lost to view, the 20th century reclamation process was launched on October 10, 2004 with the placement of the historic highway marker "Gabriel's Execution" on the sidewalk overpass between 15th and 16th streets on E. Broad St, by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality. On December 10, the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, and project committee, was formed to carry out the reclamation of Richmond's Black History in Shockoe Bottom by starting with the Burial Ground and Gabriel's Rebellion.
Click here to read several academic reports about the Burial Ground, and other relevant papers.
Nearly 9 years of effort by the Defenders, and many other individuals and organizations, resulted in being ready when the opportunity for "David" to move "Goliath", and the property's ownership was transferred from Virginia Commonwealth University to the city of Richmond, under the management of the Slave Trail Commission. The struggle to reclaim Richmond's African Burial Ground was concluded, for the time being, on May 24, 2011 with a bittersweet ground-breaking ceremony hosted by the city of Richmond. By July of that year, through donated labor by 3 Richmond contractors, the parking lot asphalt had been removed from all 3.1 acres, and a new grass expanse covered a new memorial park. Still not appropriately marked, this site covers hundreds, perhaps thousands of unrecorded burials of Black people, enslaved and free, impoverished, maybe homeless, the transient, as well as the convicted and executed.
The struggle to protect this site continues because to date, the Slave Trail Commission has produced no concrete plans for the site's improvement, and because of the larger threat to Shockoe Bottom: an enormous sports, residential and retail development scheme which would marginalize what has only just been reclaimed and forever destroy the rich cultural resources we are only just beginning to comprehend - in scale and significance to Richmond's role in one of the most important developmental components of the history of the United States and its society: the trade in enslaved Africans from 1619 through the civil war, and further, it's systemic entrenchment of White Supremacy as a way of Virginia life with direct impact on the apartheid and eugenicist systems of South Africa and Nazi Germany. These burns to the flesh of a hyper-idealized US American psyche must opened and cleansed if truth is to be understood and real progress is to be made.
This matters here on our soil, and in the rest of the world where the list of US enemies grows exponentially by the millisecond because of the onslaught of it's unyielding, schizophrenic approach to stealing resources while promising democracy. We must understand that the leadership of the US has not really let of manifest destiny as its driving principle. That we, as a people, are continuously expected to cheer, be default, for declarations that our way of life is THE way of life, no matter what it costs the rest of the world, is one of the great horrors of our time. We live here, so we must fix this.
The Burial Ground is the second to last stop on the formal "Trail of Enslaved Africans" which begins on the site of the former Manchester Docks at Ancarrow's Landing. This landing is a popular launch site for boating and as a part of the James River Park system offers space for recreation, including fishing. If you'd like to walk the Trail, here is the link to the Google Map of Ancarrow's Landing. Click on the map to get directions.
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Before 2017One of our Sacred Ground Project committee members is Dr. Autumn Rain. Dr. Rain graduated from the College of William & Mary in 2017 with a PhD in anthropology. She was part of the team that did research on the remains found at the New York African Burial Ground, and included both Richmond's African Burial Ground in Richmond and the "Cemetery of New Blacks" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in her dissertation. She spent several months in residence in Rio to study this site and it's meaning to the local Black communities. Scientists there are using the same tooth analysis technique used on the New York African Burial Ground remains to ascertain countries of origin for the enslaved men, women and children who were buried in this site. The mid-18th to early-19th century use of this cemetery (1760-1830) coincides with that of Richmond's African Burial Ground (1750-1816). Click here to read an article from The Guardian about the Rio cemetery and commemoration efforts.
APRIL 12th VIGIL AT AFRICAN BURIAL GROUND BECOMES A CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE ACTION when 8 members of the RABG Community Organizing Committee stand at the entrance to VCU's parking lot covering the Burial Ground while cars are re-routed by VCU staff and police to ALTERNATE parking lot C. The vigil began at 6:30 am at the Gabriel historic marker on E. Broad St. overlooking the Burial Ground site and lasted til 7am. 8 participants then moved from the marker to stand before the entrance of the parking lot at the intersection of Marshall and 16th streets until 8:38 am when VCU police moved in to arrest 4 of the 8 participants. The 4 spent 2.5 hours in city lock-up released on their own recognizance, charged with Class 1 Misdemeanor - trespassing after being forbidden to do so - with a possible 12 months in jail and $2500 fine if convicted. At their arraignment the next day at the Manchester Court House at 10th & Hull St. Road in the historic south-side Manchester neighborhood, a trial date was set for Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 10:00 am. RABG Community Organizing Committee is asking supporters to attend the trial. Contact 644-5834 or DefendersFJE@hotmail.com to learn how you can help.
- Dr. Michael Blakey, Institute for Historical Biology, College of William & Mary, Applying Human Biology is the component of IHB that seeks to encourage a renewed relevancy of biological anthropology for identifying and solving societal problems. Dr. Blakey was lead researcher for the New York African Burial Ground project.
- Representative, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the State Historic Preservation Office, with a mission to foster, encourage, and support the stewardship of Virginia's significant historic architectural, archaeological, and cultural resources.