As Richmond looks to build a slave museum and memorial campus in Shockoe Bottom, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Tuesday that federal funding could soon be available to help.
Warner discussed the possibility of a congressional allocation during a visit to Lumpkin’s Jail with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in honor of Black History Month.
Under plans supported by the city, the site of the historic slave jail, also known as the Devil’s Half Acre, would become a museum anchoring a memorial campus recognizing Shockoe as the country’s second-largest slave-trading hub through the mid-19th century.
“This is part of the city and commonwealth’s history. It is something we should all learn about,” Warner said during his visit Tuesday. “Our hope would be ... federal dollars could contribute to this.”
The site is located next to Interstate 95 and Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom, a neighborhood now filled with warehouse apartments and restaurants that once was the site of slave jails and holding pens.
Ana Edwards, a public historian and member of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, a group advocating for the creation of the museum and memorial park, said records show there were as many as 40 to 50 slave auction houses in the area for several decades before the Civil War.
“When you went around Richmond around that period, these auction houses would put out a red flag to indicate a sale was about to happen,” she said. “This was standard business down here in Shockoe Bottom.”
The proposed campus site also includes 3 acres of open space that the city designated as its first African American burial ground at the end of the 18th century, she said.
Former Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones proposed preserving Lumpkin’s Jail about eight years ago as part of a larger economic development project focused on building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. The plan never got traction with the City Council and eventually fell apart.
Local community and political leaders continued to discuss ways to properly memorialize the site in subsequent years, but it was not until this summer amid racial justice protests and the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments that the project gained renewed political interest.
In July, Stoney announced that the city will invest between $25 million and $50 million over the next five years to develop the museum and campus there. The city has allocated $1.7 million to the project so far.
Five months later, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he would allocate $9 million in the state’s next budget to help Richmond develop the site.
When asked about the possibility of federal funding, Warner said members of Congress are considering the suspension of a moratorium on earmarks in federal spending bills that would make it easier to guide money to nonprofit organizations.
“I think what you see here is federal, state and local cooperation, because we know that this is bigger than one city in one state,” said Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus who is running for attorney general. “This is a nationwide reckoning we’re dealing with.”
A spokesman for the mayor said the final design for the project will depend on the city’s adoption of a small area plan and approval from the Shockoe Alliance, collective of historical preservationists, community advocates, business leaders and politicians.
Edwards said she’s optimistic about where things stand with the project but remains concerned that funding that’s being discussed may go only toward the construction of the museum rather than the development of the entire memorial park.
Stoney said the city is preparing to allocate funding to support further planning for the project. He added that private donations will also be needed to finish the project, but did not say how much.
Ana Edwards, a member of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, walked with Sen. Mark Warner on Tuesday at Lumpkin’s Jail in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom. The area was the nation’s second-largest slave-trading hub through the mid-19th century.