for a Sacred Ground Memorial Park in Shockoe Bottom

Presented by the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project
of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality

Richmond History

In the three decades before the ending of slavery in 1865, some 300,000 to 350,000 people of African descent were sold out of Virginia to the cotton, sugar cane and rice plantations of the Deep South. Richmond's Shockoe Bottom district increasingly became the center of this trade and the largest slave-trading market north of New Orleans. Brought to the district by owners and professional slave traders, men, women and children were housed in jails and pens scattered throughout the district, sold in auction houses concentrated along and just west of 15th Street and transported South by railroad, walked along the Trail of Enslaved Africans to ships waiting at Manchester Docks on the James River or, fastened together in lines called coffles, simply forced to walk the long distances to their new places of enslavement.

The most important sites discovered – to date – in this district are the Manchester Docks, Trail of Enslaved Africans (Slave Trail), the African Burial Ground, Lumpkin's Jail at 15th and East Grace streets, Omohundro Jail at 17th and East Broad, and the William Goodwin Jail along 17th Street between Broad and Grace, where “Twelve Years a Slave” author Solomon Northup was likely held while on his forced journey to New Orleans. However, the whole area from the James River north to Marshall Street and from several blocks west of today's Interstate 95 to about 20th Street to the east was one integrated commercial district in which the many businesses servicing the trade were concentrated.

Shockoe Bottom is Richmond's most historic area and has twice been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1981, the Shockoe Valley and Tobacco Row Historic District was established to attract investment and spur renovation of the area’s historic buildings. In 2008, Shockoe Bottom’s significance in the slave trade and U.S. history brought a second designation. Shockoe Bottom meets five out of the 10 criteria for a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If pursued, there is no doubt this international honor would be imparted to this historic district.

Only by memorializing a significant section of this area can the true scope of the slave-trading enterprise be understood, thereby enhancing its value as a historic site and a destination for historic tourism, especially but not exclusively relating to the African-American community. 

And yet this is the area that the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation told the Washington Post is the most endangered historic site in the country – because of the proposal to build a baseball stadium there. (The inclusion of Shockoe Bottom on the Trust's annual list of the 11 most endangered historic sites was reported on by the Post, The New York Times, CNN, ABC News and Time magazine, among hundreds of other media outlets.)

The majority of Black Americans today could trace some ancestry to Shockoe Bottom, potentially making it one of the most compelling tourism destination sites in the entire country. African-American tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry, a trend reflected in the fact that there are now more than 150 Black Heritage museums operating in 37 states. Virtually every other city once associated with slavery and the slave trade has developed a museum dedicated to that history. Charleston, S.C., which already has one museum exploring this past, is now raising $75 million for a new International African American Museum, scheduled to open in 2017, with the goal “to re-center South Carolina’s place in global history, illuminating its pivotal role in the development of the international slave trade and the Civil War.”

Only Richmond, which arguably has the greatest claim to this history, has neglected this part of its past.

See Addendum: The Growing Market in African-American Tourism.

The Mayor's Development Plan 

The Revitalize RVA economic development plan proposed by Mayor Dwight Jones is based primarily on the commercial development of North Boulevard, with secondary development in Shockoe Bottom, anchored by a new baseball stadium. The stadium part of this plan would receive substantial public funding.

There would also be some recognition of the area's slavery-related history, but this would be funded largely by private, as yet unidentified donations. Richmond City Council has agreed to contribute $5 million and the General Assembly up to $11 million – and both bodies are on record as saying that money is not dependent in any way on a baseball stadium.

The mayor's office has made it clear that without a stadium it would not promote the memorialization of Richmond's central role in the domestic slave trade.

A Sacred Ground Memorial Park

The proposal for a Sacred Ground Memorial Park (SGMP) represents another alternative, one with the potential to raise a significant amount of new tax revenue from commercial and residential development, in addition to new revenue from increased tourism, while allowing the City to avoid the embarrassment of desecrating a site increasingly recognized as completely inappropriate for a ballpark.

This proposal has three elements:
  1. Keep baseball on the Boulevard, with a new stadium or renovated Diamond and new commercial development;
  2. Allow commercial and residential development in Shockoe Bottom, compatible with the historic nature of the area, but without a stadium.
  3. Reclaim a section of Shockoe Bottom as a Sacred Ground Memorial Park – large enough to convey a sense of the enormity of the slave trade practiced there but still allowing development of surrounding areas. 
The exact name of this district would be selected after a thorough community conversation.As with the mayor's plan, the Memorial Park would include the Lumpkin's Jail site and Winfree Cottage, the African Burial Ground, the Execution of Gabriel state historical marker and a section of the Trail of Enslaved Africans, which passes the Reconciliation Statue.

In addition, the Memorial Park adds two square blocks, bounded by Broad Street to the north, 17th Street to the east, Franklin Street to the south and the CSX railroad tracks to the west. This excludes the Exxon gas station and all existing businesses between Grace and Franklin streets. (See accompanying rendition.)

The land parcels within this two-block area, owned either by the City or the Loving family, are now unsightly vacant areas used as parking lots. The privately owned lots are assessed at about $2.5 million.

This now 8-block area would be landscaped, forming a coherent whole, symbolizing the fact that at one time Shockoe Bottom was an integrated commercial district serving the slave trade, while at the same time providing vital public park/green space for this highly dense urban area.

One new element in this plan could be a linear water feature: the Shockoe Creek Canal Extension. This waterway would run along the east side of the present-day CSX railroad tracks. In addition to being an attractive new feature to the Bottom and illustrating the historic connection between Shockoe Creek, the Kanawha-Haxall canals and the James River, this feature would satisfy the EPA and Chesapeake Bay Act mandate to separate storm water and sewer management. (This element was first suggested by other advocates working around this issue.)

The physical development of the Sacred Ground Memorial Park could proceed in stages, as follows:
  1. Purchase the privately owned parcels of land within the two-block area described above, currently assessed at about $2.5 million.
  2. Remove the asphalt and sod the area, as was done with the African Burial Ground.
  3. Landscape the park with trees and shrubbery, seating and gathering areas. 
  4. Extend the Trail of Enslaved Africans to provide a contemplative walking path through the park.
  5. Erect signage along the trail explaining the various known sites related to the slave trade, as well as the history and significance of the area as a whole, including that of American Indians, Quakers, Masons, the Jewish community and the founding of Richmond.
  6. Set up a professional website to explain the history of the area and promote it as a tourism destination.
  7. Develop an online walking tour that can be accessed by smart phones and other personal devices.
  8. Develop a printed brochure that describes the district and its history.
At this point there would be a historic district that can attract tourism, producing tax revenue for the city. Our proposal is that development of the site would stop here to allow for a thorough community discussion on how it should be further developed.

A Community Discussion

After the African Burial Ground was reclaimed in May 2011, the city's Slave Trail Commission promised it would hold public forums to discuss how it should be developed, if at all. Those forums never took place.

Mayor Jones promised that he would be welcome community input into his development plan, once he unveiled it to the public. But after that unveiling, on Nov. 11, 2013, he said the plan could not be picked apart. It was this plan – as presented – or nothing.

We are proposing a different process for our plan:

A Committee of Experts

We are suggesting that a committee be formed of experts in the fields of history, archaeology, anthropology and cultural preservation, along with community advocates who, against great odds, succeeded in making Shockoe Bottom's history an issue in this discussion. This committee would then organize a series of Community Discussions to hear suggestions for developing the Sacred Ground Historical Park.
Special attention would be paid to suggestions from the Black community, as the descendants of those who suffered and resisted on this sacred ground. After these discussions, a coherent plan would be created, and then presented to the community for its approval, refinement or rejection. In this way, we could develop a genuine community-generated plan, enlightened by those with the relevant education and experience.


In terms of a timeline, April 3, 2015, should be a seen as the date by which substantial work is completed on the Sacred Ground Memorial Park so it can host the city's activities marking the 150th Anniversary of the end of Confederate rule in Richmond and the day when more than 100 years of slavery in the city was brought to an end. Up until the advent of the Jim Crow era in the early 20th century, this date was celebrated in Richmond as Emancipation Day and marked by mass parades and rallies.

Note: If the mayor's Revitalize RVA plan is accepted, the new stadium would be under construction at the very time that these memorial activities are taking place, which would be an international embarrassment for Richmond.

Our Suggestions

We have our own suggestions for the stages in which the Memorial Park could be developed:
  1. Commemorative sculpture in the African Burial Ground.
  2. A visitor's center, with books, magazines, artwork and other related items for sale.
  3. An area for cultural and educational presentations.
  4. An Interpretive Site
We are not in favor of a new museum being built on this site. Richmond already has the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. We do not need to create a second museum, which would have to compete with the existing one for funding and visitors. What we would like to see is an Interpretive Site along the lines of what the National Parks Service has created at New York City's African Burial Ground and on Sullivan's Island in Charleston, S.C., both of which we have visited. These are buildings that feature physical exhibits, videos, audio recordings, artwork and photographs.

Both the New York and Charleston sites include exhibits on pre-slavery African culture. They tell the story of the grim brutality of slavery and the slave trade, but also the deeply inspiring story of a people's fierce determination to survive those horrors, not only physically but also culturally and spiritually.

And they explain the economic reasons for the development and perpetuation of slavery in the early U.S. agricultural-based society. There are exhibits explaining the roles of the slave owners, breeders, traders, jailers, overseers, newspapers, banks, insurance companies and others who kept the inhuman system functioning and profitable.

Features of an Interpretive Site
While concentrating on the Virginia slave trade, we also would like to see exhibits on the history of the area's indigenous people, as well as early Jewish, Quaker, Masonic and municipal history.

The Interpretive Site would cover the origins of enslaved people in Africa itself, so that visitors can understand that Black History did not begin or end with slavery. Emphasis could be on the Malian Empire of West Africa, where many Black Americans have their roots. The history of that empire is taught in Virginia public schools under the SOL program. Further, Richmond has a Sister City and close cultural relationship with the Malian city of Segou.

To tell the full story of Shockoe Bottom, there should be exhibits on examples of Richmond-area resistance, such as the 1800 Gabriel's Rebellion; the 1841 Creole Mutiny; the 1849 self-emancipation of Henry “Box” Brown; and the ending of slavery in Richmond on April 3, 1865, when thousands of Union troops, led by Black soldiers, marched into the city, liberated Lumpkin's Jail and held a rally on Broad Street – right on the northern edge of the Sacred Ground Memorial Park.

More modest exhibits covering other aspects of the African-American experience could refer visitors to the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar/Museum of the Confederacy; the Maggie Walker House; and other related museums.

We also would like to see a genealogy center, with printed and online resources and DNA testing that would enable visitors to actually trace their own ancestry on the very site where the majority of African-Americans today could trace some ancestry. This type of research will be a focus area of the Future of Richmond's Past Civil War and Emancipation Day observations.

The visitors' center and bookstore would be moved to this new site.

A performing arts space could attract songwriters, musicians, poets, artists, dancers, playwrights and others who have developed work related to Black History and Culture.


The SGMD basically replaces the RRP's Shockoe stadium with a memorial park, while allowing residential and commercial development in the rest of Shockoe Bottom.

This would allow the anticipated collection of the new tax revenue the mayor has described, while adding new tax revenue realized by greatly enhancing Richmond as a tourist destination.

As mentioned above, Richmond City Council already has agreed to contribute $5 million toward memorializing the slave-trading history of Shockoe Bottom, while the General Assembly has pledged up to $11 million.

Further, a percentage of the new tax revenues resulting from Shockoe Bottom development could be dedicated to the gradual development of the Memorial Park. This would be a Tax Increment Funding, or TIF revenue stream, as described in the mayor's plan. As the development grows, the park grows.


Whether or not a new baseball park is built in Shockoe Bottom, the question of the flood plain would still need to be addressed in order to allow development of any kind. Mayor Jones' senior policy advisor David Hicks has stated this could be done for $20 million, without investing $40 million in a new Shockoe stadium.

According to Chief Administrative Office Byron Marshall, the flood danger itself cannot be eliminated without spending some $200 million. But it can be “mitigated” by building a concourse around a stadium. This would allow emergency vehicles, such as ambulances, to enter the area in the event of a flood, which is all that is required by federal law.

Such a concourse could be built around the Memorial Park. The mayor's plan calls for its concourse to be paid for with TIF funding from new Shockoe Bottom development The same would apply to this plan.

The new Shockoe Creek Canal Extension satisfies the EPA and Chesapeake Bay Act mandate to separate storm water and sewer management, while providing vital public park/green space for this highly dense urban area.

Except for the section of Grace Street between the railroad tracks and 17th Street, the proposal does not affect the existing street grid. That section, which we understand includes original cobblestones, could be preserved within the Memorial Park.

Improvements in existing infrastructure would be made in conjunction with new development construction.

Note: In its parkland, Interpretive Site, signage, sculpture and other features, the Sacred Ground Memorial Park proposal attempts to clearly portray a vision, but anticipates changes in the course of wider community consultation.

Ownership and Management

The Shockoe Bottom Memorial District could be owned and operated by a combination of the City and State governments, or by the National Park Service, assisted by nonprofits with expertise in history, anthropology and tourism and informed by continuing and meaningful community input.

Benefits for the community

  • Increased tax base
  • An influx of out-of-town visitors would mean increased business for local hotels, convention centers, restaurants, taxi companies, tour operations and more. This is in sharp contrast to a stadium which attracts local visitors who do not stay overnight and often eat a meal at the stadium itself.
  • Jobs: landscaping, construction, tour guides, docents, park maintenance and tourism amenities, plus through the expansion of existing businesses serving tourism.
  • Finally coming to terms with Richmond's critical role in the internal slave trade.

Addendum: The Growing Market in African-American Tourism

African Americans spend an average of $40 billion dollars annually on travel.

Travel and Tourism
By Salome Kilkenny
Posted in: Industry Focus, Magazine Edition - May 2011
“African-Americans constitute one of the country’s top three fastest-growing markets in all segments of the travel and tourism industry, including sports tourism, meetings, adventure travel, heritage and cultural tourism, religious retreats, romantic getaways, eco-tourism, wellness vacations and international travel, according to Black Meetings & Tourism. With a buying power estimated to reach $1.1 trillion by 2014, African-Americans account for 45 percent of the $90 billion in total revenues generated by multicultural travel, Black Meetings and Tourism says. 

“Travel planners catering to African-Americans cite growing numbers. Of attendees surveyed at the 2010 African American Travel Conference in Niagara Falls, N.Y., 89 percent said they were finding new travelers in their community and 62 percent said the average number of passengers per tour is 36 and up. Based in Salem, Ohio, African American Travel Conference comprises more than 2,000 travel planners serving the African-American community. The survey findings were published in the organization’s 2010 African American Travel Industry Report.”

Affluent African American Travel Up 30 Percent: New Diversity Affluence Study Reveals
New York, New York (PRWEB) September 03, 2012
“Diversity Affluence, a diversity research, marketing communications and business development consultancy that uniquely helps brands and businesses understand and market to affluent ethnic consumers, has released a new research report indicating travel among Affluent African Americans has increased by 30 percent in the past three years. The study also shows approximately 60 percent of the target group takes at least five overnight business trips and two-thirds of those traveling spend a minimum of $2,000. The findings come at a time when the overall travel and tourism industry is experiencing downturns due to the current economy.
"The significance of the findings is not just in the surprising fact of an increase in travel among the Affluent African American market, but also how these trends impact industries outside of traditional travel and tourism," says Andrea Hoffman, founder and CEO of Diversity Affluence. "Restaurants, advertising companies, insurance companies, chambers of commerce, and arts organizations are only a few of the ancillary industries that also benefit from the increased travel among Affluent African Americans."

Facts on African-American Tourism: “Black Meetings and Tourism”

African American Museums

The first African-American museum was the College Museum in Hampton, Virginia, established in 1868. [1] Prior to 1950, there were about 30 museums devoted primarily to African-American culture and history in the United States. These were located primarily at historically black colleges and universities or at libraries that had significant African-American culture and history collections. [2] Throughout the 1960s, the energy of the American Civil Rights Movement led to numerous local African-American museums being founded. [3] By 1991, there were about 150 African-American museums in 37 states. [1] As of 2010 the largest African-American museum in the United States was the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. It will be exceeded in size by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture when completed in 2015. [4]

[1] Dickerson, Amina J. "African American Museums and the New Century: Challenges in Leadership," In Leadership for the Future: Changing Directorial Roles in American History Museums and Historical Societies: Collected Essays. Bryant Franklin Tolles and Edward P. Alexander, ed. Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1991, p. 169.
[2] Coleman, Christy. "African American Museums in the Twenty-first Century," In Museum Philosophy for the Twenty-first Century. Hugh H. Genoways, ed. Lanham, Md.: Altamira Press, 2006, p. 151.
[3] Coleman, p. 152.
4] Dagbovie, Pero Gaglo. African American History Reconsidered. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2010, p. 75.

Virginia African-American Museums (Partial listing)
Association of African American Museums
P.O. Box 23698
Washington, DC 20026
Annual Conference – Birmingham, AL – August – Hosted by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
  • African-American Museum of Fauquier County – Plains
  • Alexandria Black History Museum – Alexandria
  • American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar – Richmond
  • Anne Spencer House – Lynchburg
  • Armstead Tasker Johnson High School Museum – Montross
  • Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia – Richmond
  • Black Heritage Museum of Arlington – Arlington
  • Blacksburg Museum – Blacksburg (planned)
  • L.E. Coleman African-American Museum – Halifax County
  • Freedom House Museum – Alexandria
  • Hampton University Museum – Hampton
  • Harrison Museum of African American Culture – Roanoke
  • Legacy Museum of African American History – Lynchburg
  • Robert Russa Moton Museum – Farmville
  • Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site – Richmond
  • Booker T. Washington National Monument – Franklin County
  • Waynesboro African-American Museum – Waynesboro

International African American Museum
Charleston, SC
Expected to open in 2017
“IAAM is a new museum of African American history and identity. It will communicate the largely overlooked history of African Americans in the Lowcountry, South Carolina, and explain how this population impacted the nation. IAAM aims to re-center South Carolina’s place in global history, illuminating its pivotal role in the development of the international slave trade and the Civil War.”

New Orleans African American Museum

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National parks remain strong economic engines

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But Campus Martius is more than a public park—it has become an economic engine for a struggling city.

People and Parks: How Crowdfunding Can Help


No one person or organization has the right to decide what should be done with the sacred ground that is Shockoe Bottom. Only the African-descended community as a whole has that right. By collectively examining many ideas we can begin the process of reclaiming and properly memorializing this land, made sacred by the suffering and resistance of the people whose lives were sold to produce the tremendous profits that were the foundation for building the United States of America.


DefendersFJE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz said...

Excellent - looking forward to hearing how this alternative will remain financially viable. That's the one thing we'll need to win over the supporters of the ballpark. Has anyone run the numbers? What will the ticket prices be?