Reclaiming Our Sacred Ground


Originally published in the Summer 2022 edition of The Virginia Defender, issue 69, printed July 27. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2022 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Phil Wilayto

After more than 20 years of sustained community struggle, Richmond city government finally has publicly committed to memorializing Shockoe Bottom, the downtown district that once was the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade.

The Defenders are proud to have played a leading role in this struggle. Going forward, we see our role as promoting three things: transparency, community input and ensuring that financial benefits from the project primarily go to the descendant community.

On July 20, we emailed a series of questions to Virginia state Delegate Delores McQuinn, who heads up the National Slavery Museum Foundation, which has taken on the task of creating a national slavery museum on the site of the Devil’s Half-Acre (Lumpkin’s jail) in Shockoe Bottom. The museum was originally projected to cost $100 million in public and private funds, but that figure has since ballooned to up to $220 million. (The reason: After several years and millions of dollars spent on design work, someone apparently remembered that the site is located in a flood plain.)

We emailed Delegate McQuinn again on July 25, but by presstime the following day still had not received any response.

These are the questions we asked of Delegate McQuinn:

  • Does the National Slavery Museum Foundation have a website or any other online presence?
  • Does the foundation have a board of directors? If so, who are the members?
  • Does the foundation have a director? If so, who is it?
  • What is the current estimate for the cost of designing and building the museum?
  • What is the current estimate for the annual cost of operating the museum?
  • How much money has the foundation raised to date? What amount has been allocated by the City of Richmond? By the state of Virginia? How much has been raised from private sources?
  • What expenses has the foundation paid for to date? How much, and to what entities or individuals?
  • What is the timeline for creating the museum?
  • Are any public meetings about the museum scheduled at this time?

If we receive a response after the press deadline, we will post it on the newspaper website:

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