When we published a Little Known Black History Fact earlier this week, we weren’t expecting such a quick response. After all, the fact was about people who are no longer with us. But in the City of Richmond, those people are still part of a very current decision. When a minor league baseball team wanted to build a new ballpark in an area of Richmond called Shockoe Bottom, they soon came across an amazing discovery – their new home was a former burial and there were still souls buried 14 feet deep underground.

The grounds were home to the Richmond jail at that time and also adjacent one of the more disturbing parts of Richmond’s history – a slave market that was one of the busiest in the country outside of the one in New Orleans, La.

Richmond mayor Dwight C. Jones wanted to add to some of the information presented on the site and the show. The story is very personal for him, as he’s a graduate of Virginia Union University, which was created from some of the land donated by the “widow” of the man the former jail was named after, Robert Lumpkin.

“In Richmond we have a long and complex history involving the slave trade,” says Jones. “Twenty-six percent of Richmonders live in poverty, so I proposed a jobs and economic growth plan to lift up our history. Earlier this week on the show, an area named the “Devil’s Half Acre” was referenced. I’m intimately familiar with that because that’s where my alma mater began in the Virginia Union University.

Shortly after the Civil War began, the African-American widow of a noted slave trader leased the old jail to the Richmond Theological Institute for Freeman and that became Virginia Union.”

“My plan will build up the site and generate the dollars to create a heritage center so more people can see this wonderful site and know this wonderful history. Some have said we’re trying to build a ballpark on that site, but it’s simply not true. In fact, three years ago, I fought to reclaim teh historic slave burial ground and work with the community to remove asphalt and now it’s a wonderful, quiet place of contemplation. Our future plans are to beautify it even more.”

Jones says there is a ballpark planned but not at the former burial ground site, as has been reported. The City of Richmond is looking to raise $30 million for further improvements to the burial ground site, which he says will not be impacted by the ballpark construction.

“It will in no way impact the sacred ground,” Jones says.

16 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones Refutes Ballpark Construction

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  3. Richmond Mayor Jones is misrepresenting the facts. Toward the end of the successful, many years long struggle to reclaim Richmond’s African Burial Ground, Jones met with the administration of Virginia Commonwealth University, which at the time operated a parking lot on the site, and accepted the university’s offer to set aside a small sliver of land for the city to commemorate the cemetery. VCU was to keep parking cars on the rest of the 3.1-acre site. At the time, Jones was running for mayor and had not been part of this fight in any way. His action here was simply designed to curry favor with VCU, the city’s largest employer and the economic engine for Richmond’s downtown. The community refused to accept this compromise, kept up the struggle and eventually forced the state to reimburse VCU $3 million to transfer the entire lot to the City. By that time Jones was mayor, and he officiated at a ceremony to begin the removal of the parking lot asphalt – a self-serving act of grandstanding that was boycotted by the community activists. Today Jones is promoting a $200 million developers’ plan that includes a publicly funded stadium to be built in the heart of Shockoe Bottom, once the site of the country’s second-largest slave-trading district. No one wants baseball to move from its current site on the street called the Boulevard where it has been played for 60 years. The only reason for the move is to get the stadium off its current prime real estate location so that a small group of wealthy white developers can get their hands on it. Jones has claimed that no sites related to the slave trade lie within the Shockoe Bottom development plan, even after the conservative local newspaper ran a four-page feature story about the Richmond slave trade and its nearly 100-related sites in the Bottom. Four such sites lay within the footprint of the proposed stadium itself, including the jail owned by William Goodwin where Solomon Northup was held for a night on his forced journey to New Orleans. Jones’ claim that the development project is intended to create jobs and alleviate poverty is a complete farce. He has done virtually nothing to alleviate that poverty and in fact is promoting a plan to break up the city’s public housing projects, leaving 10,000 of Richmond’s most vulnerable residents without a place to live. So what we have here is a Black Baptist minister/mayor of the former capital of the Confederacy promoting the desecration of one of the most important sites to the country’s Black community as the city approaches the 150th anniversary of its liberation by Union forces and the ending of some 200 years of slavery in Richmond. The community-based opposition is putting up a tremendous fight, but we absolutely need reinforcements from outside Virginia. One way to help is to please sign and promote the online petition opposing the stadium at: http://www.shockoebottom.blogspot.com. And, just as the Virginia Union University story is important to the history of Black education after the end of slavery, so is it important to honor the lives of those of our ancestors who lived enslaved all those hundreds of years before slavery ended. It is because they lived, survived and persevered that we live now. The story of Shockoe Bottom is bigger than Lumpkin’s Jail and our African Burial Ground. You should see it. Let’s not lose it before you do.
    Ana Edwards, chair
    Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project

  4. The Mayor LIED

    . Even our local disgrace of a newspaper which created and led the charge with “Massive Resistance” which closed Virginia Public Schools for a generation rather than comply with court ordered desegregation now admits that the most recent research shows that the slave pen which held Solomon Northup, of Twelve Years A Slave, lies within the footprint of the Stadium . See the map in the Article ..site marked #8


  5. Mr Tom Joyner
    After Solomon Northup was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., he was transported 100 miles south to Richmond, Virginia, which at that time was the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade. According to the autobiographical book on which the amazing film “Twelve Years a Slave” was based, he spent a night in a slave jail in the heart of Shockoe Bottom, the downtown commercial district from which hundreds of thousands of Black people were sold and transported South. This area grew to become the primary source of enslaved labor for the plantation of the Deep South and a slave-trading district second only in size and volume to that of New Orleans. The suffering that Solomon Northup and so many others experienced here – as well as their heroic resistance to slavery – has made this small area of Virginia’s capital city sacred ground.

    But, unlike in Charleston, S.C.; New Orleans, La.; Liverpool, England; or Gorée Island in Senegal, Richmond has no museum to tell the story of what happened here. More so than any other city involved in the slave trade, this former capital of the Confederacy buried its past under the mythology of the Lost Cause.

    Today that denial and suppression of history is being compounded by a development plan promoted by Richmond’s business community that would include putting a commercial, minor-league baseball stadium in the heart of Shockoe Bottom – including right on the site of the slave jail that once housed Solomon Northup.

    A growing grassroots movement to stop this desecration has succeeded in delaying approval of the plan by Richmond’s City Council, but the wealthy developers involved are pulling out all the stops to defeat us. They have spent more than $30,000 in a public relations campaign, while now reluctantly promising to create a small museum or other institution devoted to slavery and emancipation. But, unlike the $100 million commitment in public funds they are requesting, there are only promises of funding and fund raising for the museum.

    For our part, hundreds of people of all races have attended City Council meetings, held vigils and protests, collected more than 3,200 signatures on an anti-stadium petition, raised the money to pay for billboards and yard signs and enlisted the public support of some of Virginia’s most prominent historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and museum officials, while carrying out a media campaign that has resulted in stories in The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Toronto Star, Ottawa Sun and several news agencies in Africa.

    The awarding of the Best Picture of the Year Oscar to “Twelve Years a Slave” has focused national attention on the reality of slavery in pre-Civil War America. People of all races and generations are thinking about and discussing this issue as seldom before.

    And that is why we are writing to you – to ask for your help in focusing national and international attention on this profit-driven attempt to literally bury the true story of Richmond’s past – and the central role that slavery and the massive slave trade played in the economic, political and social development of this city, this state and this country.

    Recent scholarly research is only now rediscovering and reclaiming the history and significance of Shockoe Bottom. In addition to encouraging this research, the grassroots efforts can proudly claim one major success: the reclamation of the city’s oldest municipal burial ground for imported and U.S. born Africans (circa 1750-1816), now transformed from the site of a state-owned parking lot into a beautiful grassy area known as Richmond’s African Burial Ground. Thousands of enslaved Africans were buried here. And it was here that the great slave-rebellion leader Gabriel was executed in 1800 for the crime of daring to fight for his people’s freedom.

    In addition, City-sponsored archaeology has uncovered the site of the notorious Lumpkin’s Jail, an area known as the Devil’s Half Acre used for holding and selling enslaved people – and breaking the bodies and will of those who resisted. And this was just one of many such jails in Shockoe Bottom and one of close to 100 sites related to the slave trade.

    The area where the stadium is planned is just two blocks from Lumpkin’s Jail and the African Burial Ground and includes within its footprint at least four large slave-trading sites – including the jail owned by William Goodwin, where Solomon Northup was held.

    There are many poignant moments in the film that represented sheer brilliance. In one, Northup was nearly hung for defending himself against a cruel work boss. Once the lynchers were chased away, the overseer only partially cut him down and he was left suspended low enough for his toes, with constant effort, to just touch the ground, keeping him from a slow suffocation. For an entire day, the other enslaved workers continued quietly to go about their business for fear that they, too, would end up facing reprisal.

    Our city is in a similar situation. The vast majority of city workers, local non-profits, artists and small businesses depend on maintaining a relationship with the large moneyed interests that stand to gain from this humanitarian atrocity. Many local institutions have been made promises of funding in order to line up behind the plan or at least keep their actual opinions to a murmur. Few of our local leaders have the will or courage to speak out. This dance of fear is, in itself, a kind of enslavement.

    Another moment in the film that resonates very deeply is near the end, when Northup is saved and turns to leave the plantation. His joy at returning to his family is tempered by the realization that Patsy and the rest of the enslaved men, women and children that he will leave behind – his cousins in bondage – will live out the rest of their days suffering at the hands of a sick tyrant.

    If we allow this development to desecrate the sacred land of the market district where enslaved human beings bore the brunt of our failings as a nation and as a people, we will ensure that Solomon Northup’s fear and sorrow that their lives were lost to folly and greed were not only fulfilled then, but continue to this very day.

    If this happens, the places where stories like Northup’s and Gabriel’s took place could be lost or marginalized forever. A sports stadium will be obsolete in 20 years – a single generation. Our nation’s slave-trading history – the skeleton upon which the U.S. economy was fleshed out – was as drilled into the structure of daily life for white Richmonders as it was a chronic, soul-crushing trauma in the daily lives of Black Richmonders. It is human and life-affirming to explain and condemn what could not be stopped before, and to mark for remembrance that which should never be repeated.

    Please help our efforts. The time is now.

    If you would like to discuss ways in which you can help our city avoid this awful fate, our contact information is below.


    Ana Edwards, Chair, Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project

    Kim Allen, Ph.D., Cultural Anthropologist

    Spencer Turner and Eva Roach, Co-founders, Virginia Center for Latin American Arts

    Phil Wilayto, Editor, The Virginia Defender

  6. mansilver on said:

    Listen to Dr. Kim Allen talk about the significance of Shockoe Bottom, starting at 13:05, http://vimeo.com/85409098

    I also believe that the ball field will actually be located on the site of the “jail” where Solomon Northup was held while in Richmond. It’s #8 on the map, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152336763374744&set=a.78575014743.102325.697384743&type=1&theater

    Here’s a newspaper advertisement for the place, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152319572789744&set=a.10150402143094744.417895.697384743&type=1&theater

    Watch more videos of the “community discussion” happening around this proposal, https://vimeo.com/album/2761360

  7. Listen to Dr. Kim Allen talk about the significance of Shockoe Bottom, starting at 13:05, http://vimeo.com/85409098

    I also believe that the ball field will actually be located on the site of the “jail” where Solomon Northup was held while in Richmond. It’s #8 on the map, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152336763374744&set=a.78575014743.102325.697384743&type=1&theater

    Here’s a newspaper advertisement for the place, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152319572789744&set=a.10150402143094744.417895.697384743&type=1&theater

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