Reclaiming Our Sacred Ground


Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2023 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 71, printed March 22. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter/Spring 2023 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For other issues dating back to 2012, see the Full Issues page.

By Ana Edwards

The ‘Heritage Campus’

With $28 million committed, a project team on board and the master planning for design and community engagement started, it would seem that the 2015 Alternate Proposal for Shockoe Bottom Development has come to fruition. And, considering that Mayor Stoney cannot run for re-election, breaking ground before the upcoming mayoral election in 2024 would seem to be a priority goal for his administration’s legacy. Even as we remind our readers of what still needs to be done, the pace of activity finally being applied to the creation of the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park (aka Enslaved African Heritage Campus) after 20+ years of struggle and advocacy is more than welcome.

How much money does the City have to create the campus?

$28 million has been approved for the creation of the “Enslaved African Heritage Campus” in Shockoe Bottom. Identified on no less than five pages of the “2023-2027 Adopted Capital Improvement Projects Budget” these funds are to be spent over the next five years.

Who is in overall charge of this project? Who else is involved? Who has been chosen as the chief designer? What is the advisory committee and who is on it?

The city hired Richmond’s oldest architecture firm, Baskervill, led by board chairman and partner Burt Pinnock, FAIA and member of the National Organization of Minority Architects, to lead the architecture, project management and community engagement. With a well-established history in design, Pinnock’s works include the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, Virginia Civil Rights Monument, Reconciliation Statue plaza, Richmond Slave Trail markers, The Dwelling at Richmond Hill and the Burying Ground at the University of Virginia. His most recently completed work, “Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved,” was unveiled on May 7, 2022, at the College of William & Mary. The two other Baskervill staff members are Anca Liban, project manager, and Luke Escobar, architect.

The project team includes staff from Richmond’s Department of Public Works (Lynn Lancaster, deputy director of parking and mobility, and Jeannie Welliver, senior project manager) and Department of Economic Development (Kimberly Chen, senior manager, and Susan Glasser, secretary, Public Art Commission). The civil engineering will be handled by VHB. Waterstreet Studio is the landscape design firm.

A Curatorial Team was also established: Toni Wynn, independent writer, educator, interpretive planner, conflict resolution,; Christy Coleman, executive director of Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, former CEO of the American Civil War Museum; Lauranett Lorraine Lee, historian, professor at the University of Richmond, co-founder of the Unknown No Longer database; Bryan Clark Green, architectural historian, director of historic preservation for Commonwealth Architects; Lynn Rainville, historian, inaugural director of institutional history at Washington and Lee University; and Ana Edwards, public historian, chair of the Virginia Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project.

What do we know about the study to determine what can be built in Shockoe Bottom?

Civil engineering firm Greeley and Hansen conducted a study in 2022 to determine the flood and stormwater conditions present in Shockoe Bottom. The firm produced a 74-page report, “Shockoe Bottom Floodway Modeling And Planning Services” that clearly indicates challenges for the proposed museum and areas within Heritage Campus footprint:

1) “Floodplain” – the regular and 100- year flood and stormwater levels will affect what can be built or planted in this area, and all areas are not the same.

2) “Creek Culvert” – Shockoe Creek was channeled into a concrete culvert in 1928 and sections of it passing through the Heritage Campus footprint run along the eastern edge of the Burial Ground hillside and under portions of the archaeological remains of the Lumpkin’s Jail site. “Designs for the Campus should consider the conduit’s footprint when planning the location of new buildings and their foundations.”

3) “Easements & Utilities” is the section that refers to “the series of sewage and gas lines that criss-cross the Campus site that each have their own easements and setbacks” (areas around the lines that cannot be built within or upon).

What do we know about what the City has decided about the feasibility of building a slavery museum on the site of Lumpkin’s jail?

To this point, the City has made no comment about the impact of the report on planning for the museum.

Is there a timeline for the project?

The 32-week master planning process kicked off at an all-day convening and orientation of the project team on March 7, which will result in a final design and the construction schedule. The administration’s goal is to break ground in the fall of 2023.

The Interpretive Center

How much money does the City have to create the interpretive center?

In January 2023, the city of Richmond announced it had been selected by the Mellon Foundation to receive $11 million to fund the “Shockoe Heritage Campus Center: Transforming Richmond’s Core Commemorative Landscape to support the planning, development, and initial operations of a cultural space located at the Shockoe Bottom train shed that memorializes and commemorates the history of slavery in Richmond.” (Source: Mellon) The funding will cover all identified expenses for two years. This reporter has not found a record of any city money being put into this project.

The center’s interpretive scope is to cover African and African American history; Pamunkey and other Indigenous history; Jewish history; Richmond’s role in the domestic slave trade and its origins in the Trans-Atlantic trade and the U.S. nation’s founding; labor; industry; the geography of the city’s place in these histories; and serve as a connector to the key sites of the Devil’s Half Acre, African Burial Ground, Trail of Enslaved Africans, Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground and a new Cemetery Trail.

For more information about Shockoe Bottom, its history, significance and the struggle to reclaim it, visit the website of the Sacred Ground Project.

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