The struggle to commemorate slavery
The Virginia Historical Society’s “Unknown No Longer” slave names database is just one of the steps toward connecting today’s African-Americans to their past. But sometimes giving a voice to the past is not simply a click away.
Since its discovery in 2008, the African Burial Ground in Richmond has been a controversial topic. Now, a community group is doing everything it can to give the burial ground the respect it deserves.
The Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality is made of individuals active in issues such as politics, race and sexism. They have worked to maintain Richmond’s black history.
The Defenders’ most recent project has been the African Burial Ground, where slaves and/or free blacks were interred in what is now Shockoe Bottom. The group created a special committee to seek recognition and dignity for the African Burial Ground.
The Defenders aren’t the only ones looking out for black history in Richmond.
The Richmond Slave Trail Commission was started by Richmond City Council in 1998 to shed light on the history of slavery in Richmond. The commission recently erected markers designating a trail of key sites related to the city’s role in the slave trade.
Delegate Delores L. McQuinn, who chairs the commission, said the slave trail means a hidden story is finally being told. She said it means bringing balance to the history of Richmond, and to the people who have been forgotten or unidentified.
“It symbolizes perseverance and fortitude of people who were determined, even though they were considered less than or almost nonexistent other than for labor and economic purposes,” McQuinn said.
Besides unveiling the slave trail markers, the commission continues to work with the Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality on the burial ground.
Shockoe Bottom is known for its bar scene. The burial ground was discovered during a ground survey that connected modern urban structures with historical maps. Two of the maps showed a space called “The Burial Ground for Negroes.”
Historians believe the burial ground was in use from 1786-1819. Because the word slave does not appear in the title on the map, many think the burial site was used not for slaves but for free blacks.
After it was discovered, the Virginia Department of Historical Resources compiled an assessment of the burial grounds. The department hypothesized that a piece of the burial ground lies beneath a Virginia Commonwealth University parking lot. Since this discovery, community groups have been calling for VCU to remove the parking lot.
The site received recognition this year when it was included among the 17 slave trail markers erected by the City Council. However, the Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality want more for the burial ground. They believe the parking lot should be removed so the site can be properly commemorated.
On April 10, prominent public officials spoke at the unveiling of the slave trail markers. The speakers included Gov. Bob McDonnell, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones and representatives of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission.
Many people used the opportunity to protest VCU’s continued use of the African Burial Ground as a parking lot.
On April 12, just days after the markers went up, eight Defenders stood in the parking lot, calling for VCU to shut down the lot. The group’s vigil began at 6:30 a.m., as VCU employees were arriving for work.
Because they were blocking the parking lot, four of the Defenders were arrested and face a trial date in late May. The group has started an online petition to tell VCU to get its “ass-fault” off the burial ground. Currently, the petition has more than 250 signatures.
McDonnell raised the issue of the African Burial Ground at the slave trail celebration. He announced that he would sign a bill to transfer the property from VCU to the city of Richmond.
“Working together with the mayor as I have over these last few months and years, and with the leadership at VCU, we will do everything possible to tear up this asphalt as soon as possible and properly restore this site,” McDonnell said.
Professor Shawn Utsey, who chairs VCU’s Department of African-American Studies, said that the governor’s announcement is progress and that things are moving in the right direction. But Utsey said more should be done.
Utsey feels passionately about the burial ground. He is a member of the Slave Trail Commission and creator of a documentary, “Meet Me in the Bottom: The Struggle to Reclaim Richmond's African Burial Ground.”
“The way I was raised, you didn’t park your car – in fact, you didn’t walk – on a grave site unless you were going to see somebody whom you had lost. But even then … you would walk very carefully and show respect,” Utsey said.
He compared the situation to parking a car on one of the gravestones in Hollywood Cemetery, where many Confederate soldiers are buried. “Try parking your car on top of those and see what happens to you.”
Utsey said the next steps are to remove the cars and then the asphalt – and then to discuss what should follow. Some people believe a memorial should be built on the site. Utsey said research should be done to tell the story of the people whose remains lie in the African Burial Ground.
With a nod to Arbor Day, Citizen seeks photos, descriptions of significant Henrico trees
Citizen Staff Reports 04/28/2015
Do you have a favorite tree in Henrico?
Do you know of a tree with an interesting story?
Do you live near an especially large, old, or otherwise unusual tree – or do you pass by one that has always intrigued you?
Arbor Day 2015 (April 24) was last week, and though the Citizen has published stories about a few special trees over the years (see sidebar) we know that our readers can lead us to more. > Read more.
Henrico's most famous tree, known as the Surrender Tree, still stood for more than a century near the intersection of Osborne Turnpike and New Market Road -- until June 2012.
It was in the shade of that tree on April 3, 1865, that Richmond mayor Joseph Mayo met Major Atherton Stevens and troops from the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry and handed over a note surrendering the city to Federal troops. Evacuation had already begun. > Read more.
The Greater Richmond ARC's annual Ladybug Wine Tasting and Silent Auction on April 11 netted $75,165 to benefit its Infant and Child Development Services (ICDS) program.
About 350 guests sampled fine West Coast wines and craft beer from Midnight Brewery at Richmond Raceway Complex's Torque Club, along with food from local eateries. Carytown Cupcakes provided dessert. > Read more.
A Henrico High School student was one of eight students from Virginia selected as a 2015 student playwright as part of the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community's 26th annual New Voices for the Theater Festival of New Works, which will be held July 10-11 at VCU.
Elaina Riddell of the Center for the Arts at Henrico HS will join the other students and bring her original one-act play to life on stage at the event. In total, 150 plays were submitted to SPARC. Riddell and the other winners will work closely with New York City-based professional playwright Bruce Ward for the event. > Read more.
In the mood for some spring shopping? Eastern Henrico FISH will hold their semi-annual yard sale this weekend – funds raised assist at-risk families in Eastern Henrico County. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will hold a spring plant sale which is among the largest in the region with more than 40 vendors selling plants ranging from well-known favorites to rare exotics. Put on your detective hat and find out “whodunnit” at the movie “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and “The Case of the Dead Flamingo Dancer,” presented by the Henrico Theatre Company May 1-17. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
It’s that time of year – charity races are popping up everywhere! On Saturday, St. Joseph’s Villa will be the site of the sixth annual CASA Superhero Run and the fifth annual Richmond Free to Breathe Run/Walk will be held in Innsbrook. Also in Innsbrook, the 2015 Richmond Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis will take place on Sunday. If you’re more into relaxation than exercise, check out Wine for Cure’s Dogwood Wine Festival or the Troubadours Community Theatre Group’s production of “West Side Story” at the Henrico Theatre. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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CalendarRichmond’s Gold Wing Road Riders Association local Chapter D is sponsoring a special picnic and poker run “Celebrating Mom” at Dorey Park, Shelters 4-7. Event starts at 9 a.m. with… Full text