‘The lives of enslaved Africans matter’: Plans announced for memorial park in Shockoe Bottom

Updated: Jul. 28, 2020 at 4:20 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond City Mayor Levar Stoney announces a $25-50 million dollar investment to commemorate and memorialize what he calls Richmond's "complete history."

On Tuesday, Stoney announced a capital improvement budget amendment for the future project. The budget is part of the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Project plan. This will require approval by city council.

“This investment will help us turn the collective vision that we had for so long, into a reality,” Stoney said.

“Our history, Mr. Mayor, has not necessarily been the interest of others,” said Delegate Delores McQuinn. “Today, we show that we are interested in it; we are determined to move it forward and we are determined to develop, what we believe is a story like no other.”

For years McQuinn has advocated for change and recognition of the area known in Shockoe Bottom known as the Devil’s Half Acre, which encompasses the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail. This is the site where thousands of enslaved men, women and children were imprisoned, tortured and sold across the country.

“Even the Smithsonian magazine said this is greatest find in almost a century, right here where we stand, and then for the burial ground and beyond for the memorial park,” McQuinn said.

“Shockoe Bottom is a site of conscious,” said Ana Edwards, Chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project. “That is what the International Coalition of Sites of Conscious refer to as a place of memory that prevents that erasure of traumatic histories from happening in order to ensure a more just and humane future.”

In collaboration with the Shockoe Alliance, Stoney said he and other city leaders have been working on a plan to “tell the truth about Richmond’s history.”

“Black lives built this city,” Stoney said. “Black lives have defined much of Richmond’s history. They matter and their stories of Black lives should span our entire skyline, our entire landscape and our textbook accordingly.”

In 2018 members of the Rose Center for Public Leadership, operated by the National League of Cities and the Urban Land Institute, visited Richmond to help devise a plan to reinvigorate Shockoe Bottom.

Those members surveyed the area’s history, especially the Devil’s Half Acre, and spoke with community members and business owners.

The $25-50 million funding will be incorporated into the city's capital improvement project budget upon approval by city council. It would be phased in over several years.

Priority investments will include the Shockoe Area, various African American burial grounds and the Slave Trail.

“These areas have too long suffered from insufficient investment, and today we make a down payment,” Stoney said.

To start the process, the city has already committed $3.5 million in funding right away for the so-called Shockoe Area Memorial Park.

“The funds will come from surplus funds paid into court from city tax sales,” Stoney added.

The memorial park, which was a vision developed by the Shockoe Alliance, will include greenspace and a heritage center or museum.

“The opportunity to create space that serves as a site of conscious, memorialization, reflection, education and atonement,” Stoney said.

“We have an opportunity to leave an amazing gift to generations who are yet to come,” McQuinn added. “If we don’t get it done shame on us; shame on us. This is the right time and the right people are at the table to make a change and bring about a transformation in this particular area that tells the truth.”

“The lives of enslaved Africans matter; Black lives matter, and the opportunity to tell the whole story in this city, in this time, is even more critical than ever before,” said Cynthia Newbille, Richmond City Council President.

The space for the memorial park will encompass the African American Burial Ground, the Devil’s Half Acre site and the two blocks east of the railroad tracks that may constitute a future archaeological site.

That area is currently utilized for parking. There are also several pieces of land that are privately owned at this time.

“We will truly turn hurt and oppression that racism meant for us, into the hope, justice, freedom and liberation that our ancestors wildly dreamed for,” Stoney said. “I believe this will turn conversation into creation.”

Stoney anticipates the budget amendment to be presented to city council soon, however a timeline for when design plans and construction may happen is unknown.

REWATCH Tuesday’s full press conference here:

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