• Preserving Sacred Ground: Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground

    March 7, 2022

    The National Trust and its local allies are advocating to protect and honor the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground, a nearly erased municipal cemetery in downtown Richmond, Virginia. This collaborative advocacy is closely aligned with the goals of the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund as well as the preservation movement’s National Impact Agenda.

    Between 1816 and 1879, Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground was Richmond’s 31-acre segregated cemetery for free and enslaved African Americans. Scholars estimate that more than 22,000 people of African descent were buried there, making Shockoe Hill one of the largest African burying grounds in the United States. Shockoe Hill is associated with the Shockoe Bottom African Burial Ground and Evergreen Cemetery, two focuses of National Trust advocacy through the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

    Over many years, tragically, Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground was neglected by the City of Richmond, sold off, desecrated, and nearly destroyed by railroad and roadway construction, leaving today no visible sign to recognize the Burying Ground’s existence. In 2021, Shockoe Hill was listed by Preservation Virginia as one of Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places because of planned construction of high-speed railroad tracks and the future expansion of Interstate 64 and local roadways.

    In Richmond, the preservation alliance collaborating to save Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground is led by Lenora McQueen—who is descended from an ancestor, Kitty Cary, buried at Shockoe Hill—and a set of scholars, Steve Thompson, Ryan Smith, and Daniel Mouer. These dedicated individuals are joined by the Sacred Ground Project of the Virginia Defenders of Freedom, Justice & Equality, Preservation Virginia, Historic Richmond, RVA Archeaology, Cultural Landscape Foundation, and the National Trust. Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources and the City’s Historic Preservation Office actively support this effort.

    To protect and honor this hallowed cultural landscape, the African Burying Ground has been nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register. If the nomination is successful, official recognition of the cultural importance of Shockoe Hill would be a step in the right direction.

    Learn more about the ongoing campaign to preserve the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground on The Cultural Landscape Foundation website.

  • Take Action to Endorse a Memorial Park in Historic Shockoe Bottom

    August 17, 2021

    Shockoe Bottom is the site of Richmond, Virginia’s oldest burial ground for free and enslaved Black people as well as Richmond's antebellum slavery market, where 350,000 women, men, and children were sold by white enslavers into bondage between 1830 and 1865.

    For years, redevelopment of the neighborhood has been a focus of controversy. In 2014, the National Trust named Shockoe Bottom one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places due to the proposed construction of a baseball stadium there. That incompatible proposal was withdrawn. Since then, the local African American and descendant communities have led a public dialogue about the future of Shockoe Bottom.

    Recently, the City of Richmond released its first draft of the Shockoe Bottom Small Area Plan, the City's official land-use plan for the neighborhood.

    Thanks to the diligence of City officials and the strategic advocacy of a coalition of local, state, and national nonprofits—including the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund—the draft Small Area Plan does include the community-generated concept for a Memorial Park in addition to opportunities for equitable redevelopment in Shockoe.

    This is a major success for historic preservation!

    The National Trust and our allies thank Richmond’s Mayor Levar Stoney for incorporating the Memorial Park into the City’s land-use plan for Shockoe Bottom. We strongly encourage the City to protect the cultural resources that make Shockoe unique and irreplaceable hallowed ground.

    Add your name to the letter by Friday, August 27, to endorse the Memorial Park and demonstrate that Shockoe Bottom is a nationally important historic place worthy of protection.

  • Mayor Stoney Publicly Endorses Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park

    May 27, 2020

    On May 23, Mayor Levar Stoney publicly endorsed the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park and asked that the Memorial Park concept be made a part of the Shockoe Bottom Small Area Plan, the City of Richmond’s official land-use plan. In fact, all four of Richmond’s mayoral candidates have endorsed the Memorial Park.

    Mayor Stoney’s endorsement reads, in part: “I fully support the establishment of such an inclusive Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park and have requested that the Shockoe Alliance—a collective group of city and community stakeholders that I convened in 2018 to focus on memorialization, preservation and equitable development in Shockoe Bottom—incorporate this concept into the Small Area Plan for Shockoe Bottom.”

    Credit for this milestone goes, of course, to community members—in Richmond and across the nation—who have spoken up for truth, healing, and history.
  • Help Mayor’s New Alliance Shape Shockoe Bottom’s Future

    April 11, 2019

    On April 15, 2019, the new group Mayor Stoney created to lead the design and implementation for Shockoe Bottom will hold its first community meeting. The public is invited to attend.

    The Shockoe Alliance consists of City of Richmond staff, preservation experts, and community members. The group is tasked with ensuring a collaborative approach to reimagining Shockoe Bottom as an “innovative space [for] memorialization, learning, and transformation—all while protecting the area’s cultural and historic heritage.”

    This is welcome news, as this vision complements our long-held support for the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park plan—a collaborative, community-centered approach to balancing sensitive memorialization of the area’s difficult history with equitable economic development that especially benefits Richmond’s African American residents.

    To further that end, monies from the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF) were awarded to Preservation Virginia to convene a resource panel of experts and practitioners—with our partner, the Sacred Ground Project—to identify best practices in creating opportunities for equitable economic development and to consider their application to Shockoe Bottom.

    The panelists, with expertise including community development, neighborhood revitalization, city planning, workforce development, sustainability, and design, met last week in Richmond to begin formulating ideas about how to best provide opportunities for education, training, and prosperity in a district that has long struggled economically.

    Preservation Virginia is also using the Action Fund grant to commission Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis to research the economic impacts of African American cultural heritage destinations nationally, and to quantify the economic benefits of transforming Shockoe Bottom into a memorial park. They will release the full report this summer and include focus groups with local residents, community leaders, and business owners.

    On April 15, help us tell the Shockoe Alliance that the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park plan, with its spaces for reflection, education, and equitable economic development, is a vital framework for reimagining this landscape.

    Full meeting details:

    When: April 15, 2019, 6:00 p.m.

    Where: Main Street Station, 1500 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA

    No registration needed. We hope to see you at the meeting!

    Members of the Shockoe Bottom Resource Group

  • Rose Center Experts Make Recommendations for Shockoe Valley Visioning and Planning

    February 13, 2018

    Last week, a team of national experts organized by the Rose Center for Public Leadership gathered in Richmond to tour Shockoe Valley and brainstorm solutions to bring about Richmond Mayor Stoney’s vision for both equitable economic development and memorialization of the area’s past as the nation’s second-largest slave trading center. Mayor Stoney was one of four U.S. mayors to be selected for this year-long partnership. The National Trust’s Graham Gund architect, Ashley Wilson was invited to participate on the panel, joining a host of professionals from the planning, civil engineering, and commercial real estate development fields.

    The Rose Center group shared their initial recommendations and laid out next steps at a press event on Thursday, February 8. The National Trust for Historic Preservation released a statement reaffirming its position on the key elements of any development in Shockoe Bottom. Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams wrote a thoughtful piece, echoing the panel’s insistence on investigating, understanding, and telling the truth of the full, and yes painful, history that transpired on this sacred ground in order to bring about true healing and reconciliation.

    The full presentation may be viewed on YouTube.

    The National Trust will remain engaged and active on the work to properly commemorate and activate this site of conscience and will keep the public informed of opportunities to join the conversation and help shape Shockoe Bottom’s future.

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