In Richmond, Va, there are plans to build a minor league baseball park near and on top of a historic slave burial ground and former marketplace. The new park for the Flying Squirrels team would mean the construction of a 7,200 seat stadium, a new hotel, over 700 new apartments and a grocery store. It would also include a heritage site that would explain the area’s history as a former slave trade center.
However, Richmond’s Black community is at odds over the construction. Between 1861 and 1865, the Shockoe Bottom District was a slave market. Slaves, including Gabriel Prosser, the leader of a slave rebellion in 1800, were buried there. The bodies were found 14 feet underground. The Shockoe Bottom district was the nation’s second-largest slave trade center next to New Orleans.
In 2009, archeologists found a jail, The Robert Lumpkin Slave Jail in Shockoe Bottom district. It was nicknamed “The Devil’s Half Acre.” It was known as one of the cruelest, most inhumane jails in the country. Lumpkin, a “bully trader” fathered five children with a slave named Mary. Though she had limited communication with the imprisoned slaves she managed to smuggle a hymnal to to one of them. In their initial dig, archeologists found evidence of a kitchen and cobblestones, part of a child’s doll and chinaware.
From accounts of slaves who were housed in the Lumpkin jail, historians better understood the conditions of imprisoned slaves. One slave, Anthony Burns, was purchased by abolitionists after four months in 1854. Throughout his confinement, Burns was tightly shackled, poorly fed, barely clothed and left in a room accessible only through a trap door.
After the Civil War and Lumpkin’s death, the real estate was left to Mary who took Lumpkin’s name and was known as his wife. She turned the jail into a school that later became Virginia Union University.
In the last hearing, the Richmond City Council voted that building negotiations should continue. They will reconvene at the end of the month.