Reclaiming Our Sacred Ground


Originally published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 59, printed August 23. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2019 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Ana Edwards

Shockoe Alliance proceeds with planning

Last year, as he faced mounting pressure to concretely address Richmond’s nationally historic Shockoe Bottom district, Mayor Levar Stoney created the Shockoe Alliance, a committee of city officials, preservationists, real estate interests and one community organization: the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project. (For a list of members, see the Shockoe Alliance website here.

The new grouping was charged with the following mission: 

“… guiding design and implementation of concepts and recommendations for the future of Shockoe as a holistic area rooted in history and informed by those with shared interests to advance these efforts in support of the mission. The Shockoe Alliance aims to strike a balance between preservation, interpretation, restoration, and development, using Shockoe’s wealth of cultural and historical memory to maximize its impact on the contemporary community in the form of economic development, recreation, and education.” 

Alliance members meet monthly at City Hall to craft a Shockoe Bottom Small Area Master Plan – an overall development plan for the district. So far the committee has held two of a projected four public meetings; April 15 at Main Street Station in the Bottom and July 17 at Martin Luther King Middle School near Mosby Court. Both times the attendance was nearly at capacity, but the racial demographics were majority white, older and professionals. 

On the other hand, the feedback on the themes identified for small area master planning of the neighborhood reflected the well-established consensus of community advocates for the nine-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park concept: that the Black history significance of the area should be the central feature; that current plans for the Lumpkin’s Jail/Devil’s Half-Acre museum (or interpretive center) should be supported; and that the area of preservation and development should include the African Burial Ground and enough area to the east of the CSX railroad tracks to make clear the scale of impact of Shockoe Bottom on the economy of Richmond from slavery through freedom and into the present. 

The next public meeting has not yet been scheduled, but Alliance facilitator Sal Musarra announced that the purpose will be to present the first conceptual representation of the small area master plan. The meeting is to be interpreted in Spanish. 

What’s needed now is for more members of the Black community to attend these public meetings and voice their concerns and preferences about the future of Shockoe Bottom. 

Shockoe Economic Study 

The final report of the Economic Impact and Benefits Study of the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park is expected to be published in September. The two-part study was designed to make the case for the creation of the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park as a heritage tourism destination and catalyst for equitable economic development, and inform the Shockoe Alliance’s Small Area Master Planning process. 

In the first part of the study, facilitated by Ebony Walden Consulting, a group of urban planning and equitable development experts was convened to make recommendations for future redevelopment of the Shockoe Bottom area through case studies of successful projects in other U.S. cities that could be used in Richmond. 

In the second part, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA) examined the memorial park as a heritage tourism destination and its potential economic impact on the city as a whole and the Black community in particular. 

The full report will be presented to Mayor Stoney, the Shockoe Alliance and the public. The project partners then would like to make presentations to any community group interested in learning more. 

The study is being funded with a $75,000 grant awarded to Preservation Virginia by the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

For more information on the grant project, visit the Sacred Ground website here. 

Shockoe Advocates Group 

The community-driven process for creating the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park proposal took place in 2015 and underwent two updates, in 2016 and 2017. A core group of participants has consistently contributed their time and resources to this campaign. We refer to them as the Shockoe Bottom Advocates. 

There are 40 people in this group, 25 of whom are African-American, including students, retirees, religious leaders, civil rights activists and a few organizational representatives. The Advocates meet with the Sacred Ground Project to discuss new developments and plans for activities that work toward the achievement of the Memorial Park. The purpose is to make sure that Sacred Ground’s work is rooted in the community. 

In the next issue of the Defender we will report on the work of the East Marshall Street Well Project, the Second African Burial Ground vs. High Speed Rail, the Virginia State Penitentiary and the role of archaeology in social justice and historic preservation.

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