Mayor Levar Stoney on Tuesday announced he would propose a budget amendment to the Richmond City Council that, over a five-year period, would have the city invest between $25 million and $50 million to commemorate the complete story of slavery in Shockoe Bottom.
An immediate investment of $3.5 million to build a Shockoe memorial park that will include a slave history museum is part of the proposal.
The immediate investment, Stoney said, will come from surplus funding. The City Council has to approve the budget amendment before it can move forward. Stoney said he wasn’t sure when it would be on the council’s agenda.
“There’s no true timeline to this,” Stoney said of when the Shockoe Alliance might produce renderings or excavations for the project. “I will say it cannot take as long as 30 to 40 years. … It’s long overdue.”
Council President Cynthia Newbille was at the news conference at the Lumpkin’s Jail site. Newbille is part of the Shockoe Alliance, which was tasked with coming up with recommendations to commemorate the slave trade in Richmond.
“That’s what a racial and social justice agenda looks like,” Newbille said. “It goes beyond words. It says the lives of enslaved Africans matter ... and the opportunity to tell the whole story in this city, in this time, is even more critical in this time.”
She said she was almost moved to tears.
“The work is still ahead of us, and we have lots to do,” said Ana Edwards of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project. She also made clear that without the political climate in the city, the work may not have been done. “It’s really critically important to recognize it was the result of community involvement and community voice, including the fact that the rebellions finally galvanized political will.”
Members of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project had been advocating for a 9-acre memorial park since 2015.
The work to preserve the jail site, also known as Devil’s Half Acre, began under then-Mayor Dwight Jones’ administration, but the work was focused on trying to build a baseball stadium. The plan never got traction with the City Council and eventually fell apart.
Shockoe Bottom has a long history as a former slave-trading hub. The area holds the Lumpkin’s Jail site, where slaves brought from Africa were held until they were sold. Also in the area, a parking lot owned by Virginia Commonwealth University was discovered to have slaves buried underneath. That land is now known as the African Burial Ground. In 2011, VCU turned the land over to the city after three years of protests. The asphalt was removed through volunteer work, according to the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project’s website.
Over the next few months, the Shockoe Alliance will continue working to come up with a solid plan for the museum and other parts of the memorial park.