In the three decades before the U.S. Civil War, between 300,000 and 350,000 human beings were sold from Virginia to plantations throughout the South, making possible the enormous profits realized from producing three-quarters of the world's cotton, the raw material for the critical textile industry.
The majority of these enslaved peoples passed through the jails, auction houses and transportation centers of Richmond's Shockoe Bottom, making it, after New Orleans, the second-largest U.S. market for the sale of enslaved Africans.
The Shockoe Bottom area contains the reclaimed African Burial Ground, which until May 2011 was used by a state university for a parking lot. The Bottom includes the site and original stone foundation of Lumpkin's Jail, the most notorious of the area's several jails for holding men, women and children before they were auctioned off to lives of misery. It includes a section of the Trail of Enslaved Africans, along which thousands of people were forced to walk to the ships that would carry them to the plantations of the Deep South. And it contains the sites of the many auction houses, slave trader offices, dry goods stores and other businesses that serviced this inhuman trade in human beings.
This is not a local issue. By the start of the Civil War, there were just 4 million Black people in the country. This means that, today, the majority of African-descended people in North America – the United States, Mexico and Canada – could likely trace some ancestry to Shockoe Bottom. Truly, this is Sacred Ground.
For these reasons, we strongly oppose the proposal from the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the like-minded Venture Richmond, which represent the city's business and corporate elite, to turn Shockoe Bottom into an entertainment, commercial and residential area.
Instead, we urge Richmond's and Virginia's governmental leaders to recognize the irreplaceable treasure they have in Shockoe Bottom and instead develop it as a protected historical district that can be used to educate people of all racial backgrounds about the actual origins of this country. Surely, such an internationally significant historic district would draw far more people to Richmond than a minor-league ballpark.
Richmond and the state of Virginia are at a crossroads. As we approach the national commemoration of the end of the Civil War,they will again be front and center on the public stage. When the morning of April 3, 2015, arrives – the 150th anniversary of the liberation of Richmond and the end of its more than 200 years of slavery – will this city and state be known for their enlightened preservation of their sacred sites, or for continuing the cultural desecration of a people's history?