Originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 63, printed October 29. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Autumn 2020 issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
I visited a beautiful spot recently here in Richmond. Not everyone would call this spot a place of beauty, it’s just a small plot of abandoned land at the intersection of 5th and Hospital streets. A derelict service station sits cockeyed off the side of the road, the Hebrew Cemetery across the street, a train trestle to the east and, not too far away, Interstate 64. Why would this seemingly forgotten spot of our city be considered beautiful, a spot worth a second look? It’s not what you see there now, but what lies beneath. Or what’s left, anyway.
This tiny parcel of land holds tightly in its secret embrace the remnants of what is now referred to as the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground. As many as 22,000 human beings were buried here in the 19th century, according to Lenora McQueen, the vigilant defender of this site who also suggests it may have been the largest burying ground for enslaved people and free people of color in the United States.
Destruction of this area occurred early on. During the evacuation of Richmond, the Confederates exploded a nearby powder magazine, disturbing human remains. Continued exploitation of the area by way of industrial development, a viaduct, the expansion of 5th Street and a bridge have violated the site’s original footprint. Descendants and allies have reminded us that our history is incomplete. It’s time to acknowledge and preserve our collective history by protecting this site. There’s beauty in truth.
Categories: Letters to the Editor