Shockoe Bottom was the center of Richmond’s slave trade, which played a pivotal role during the peak years of the nation’s interstate slave trade. In fact, Solomon Northup, author of 12 Years a Slave, was held here in 1841 at the notorious Goodwin’s slave jail before he was transported in chains to New Orleans.
Much of Shockoe Bottom has since been razed and paved over, nearly forgotten by mainstream historians. Nevertheless, for many descendants of the enslaved, Shockoe Bottom remains sacred ground associated with suffering, injustice, and resistance to slavery.
The National Trust named Shockoe Bottom one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2014 and a National Treasure shortly thereafter because of “Revitalize RVA,” the controversial plan to construct a minor league baseball stadium, a Hyatt hotel, a Kroger grocery store, and residential and commercial office space at the site. The ill-considered stadium project threatened to destroy the remarkable archaeological remains and the opportunity to fully interpret this dark chapter in the history of Richmond and our nation.
The National Trust and its partners succeeded in stopping the stadium project in the fall of 2015 but the area is still vulnerable to inappropriate, large-scale development. To secure the long-term preservation of this sacred ground, the Trust is working with local stakeholders to build support for an alternate plan that would create an interpretative center and memorial park on nine acres of historically significant land in Shockoe Bottom.
Richmond’s slave trade industry was second only in importance to New Orleans between 1830 and 1865. Slave-trade auction houses, offices, slave jails, and residences of the most prominent slave traders were scattered throughout Shockoe Bottom, a creek valley flowing into the James River.
The National Trust and its local allies believe Shockoe Bottom must be understood nationwide as a place of endurance and resistance, and should be treated as a Site of Conscience, where the public can remember past struggles for freedom and work together to address the contemporary legacies of injustice.
To that end, it is essential that the African-American and descendant communities have a primary voice in shaping the future of Shockoe Bottom. Any future re-development in Shockoe Bottom should be guided by the principles of historic preservation with this legacy in mind.
- Raise national awareness of Shockoe Bottom’s place in American history
- Protect Shockoe Bottom against inappropriate development
- Press for full public engagement to plan for Shockoe Bottom’s future
- Secure the adoption of the community proposal to create a memorial park on nine acres of historic Shockoe Bottom
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Protect the archaeological resources, and commemorate the unvarnished heritage, of historic Shockoe Bottom, once a major center of the U.S. domestic slave trade.
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