RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — At Monday’s city council meeting, dozens lobbied for the city to construct a slavery memorial in Shockoe Bottom.
The Richmond chapter of the NAACP along with the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project and other supporters are suggesting a nine-acre park including an African burial ground, the site of Lumpkin’s jail and two additional city blocks where other slave jails and trader offices once stood.
Those with ancestral ties to the land consider the site to be sacred ground.
“The whole story of what happened here in Richmond, Virginia should be told,” said Dawn Smith, whose ancestors are buried in Shockoe Bottom.
“Our remains should be respected,” Smith told 8News.
Presented over a year ago, the proposed park covers nearly 100 Shockoe Bottom sites that made Richmond the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade.
“We shouldn’t try to hide it anymore,” Smith said of the region’s sometimes ugly history.
At Monday’s council meeting dozens of supporters filled the chambers, showing council members they mean business about the site’s development.
“It would be hard to think of a place more important to black history in the entire United States,” said Richmond Branch NAACP President Lynetta Thompson.
Supporters said Mayor Dwight Jones has ignored their plan, instead focusing only on Lumpkin’s Jail.
“We’re offended by the narrow plan proposed by Mayor Jones, which doesn’t even include the burial ground,” Thompson told city council, adding that his proposal leaves a sacred area vulnerable to commercial development.
“The mayor only wants to put it on a postage stamp-size (parcel) and thinks he’s going to attract anybody to Richmond,” said former councilman Marty Jewell. “This is insane.”
The community proposal calls for contracts and jobs related to the project to go first to black businesses and workers.
“Many of the corporations still operating and growing are the results of the inhumane trade,” Thompson said. The community plan would also include new zoning to protect the area from being built upon.
For Smith, the show of continued support at city council signaled a chance to finally give credit where credit is due. “I just see a place where people can come and reflect on what the slave trade really meant,” she said.
In 2011, a wide-reaching community movement forced the state to abandon a parking lot that would have sat on the burial ground. In 2014, the movement blocked the mayor’s plan for a baseball stadium in the bottom.