RICHMOND, Va.–A portion of a 250-year-old burial ground for slaves and freed Negroes that now lies beneath a parking lot will be preserved and recognized as part of the city of Richmond, Va.’s effort to confront its slave-trading history. The
RICHMOND, Va.–A portion of a 250-year-old burial ground for slaves and freed Negroes that now lies beneath a parking lot will be preserved and recognized as part of the city of Richmond, Va.’s effort to confront its slave-trading history.
The 50-by-100-foot section of the former Burial Ground for Negroes had been destined to continue as a parking lot under the ownership of Virginia Commonwealth University.
However, VCU, which earlier this summer faced protests over its failure to recognize the burial ground, has changed its mind.
VCU recently announced an agreement with the Richmond Slave Trail Commission to preserve that section of its parking lot for a future memorial and quit parking cars in that section.
The university has blocked off the portion of the parking lot identified with the burial ground but is parking cars on the rest of the property that it bought earlier this year. No timetable has been given for development of the memorial. The commission is taking charge of that effort.
A panel created by the city is developing a series of historic stops to illustrate Richmond’s robust role in the slave trade, and this would be one.
Between 1808 and 1865, the city was the second largest slave auction site in the nation. The burial ground lies just north of the former site of Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, which is part of the trail and where the commission is undertaking an archaeological dig.
Before the Civil War, the jail, dubbed the Devil’s Half-Acre, was the largest holding pen for slaves. After the war, Lumpkin’s became the initial site for a school for newly freed slaves that eventually became Virginia Union University.
The burial ground was used from around 1750 to around 1812, after which the city approved a new cemetery for Negro Richmond residents further north.
According to the state history agency, Interstate 95 was built over the main portion of the burial grounds, while the asphalt parking lot seals 10 feet or more of fill that has accumulated since the last person was interred.
Dr. Christopher Stevenson, a state archaeologist, used historic maps, documents and other research to confirm the location of the burial grounds. A city gallows stood near the burial grounds, and slave revolt leader Gabriel Prosser met his death there.
Gabriel, as he is commonly known, planned an insurrection in August 1800 before Gov. James Monroe was tipped about the plot. It was snuffed out, leading to the execution of Gabriel and more than 20 other slaves. The insurgency has become known as simply Gabriel’s Rebellion, and is memorialized by a state history marker that now stands beside the parking lot.
The grounds have been churned up by development through the centuries, and an underground stream runs through the site.
Ana Edwards, who has pressed for recognition of the burial ground for four years as chairman of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, said she would urge an archaeology dig conducted at the site before a permanent memorial is created. That’s how it was done in New York after a slave burial ground was found near Wall Street, she said.
“We need to learn more about the people who are buried here as we seek to properly honor them,” she said.
Under slavery and in the Jim Crow South, the races were divided in death as they were in life. Thousands of similar burial grounds are likely scattered around the South, and many are being rediscovered in the push for a fuller picture of history.
Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press
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