In an October column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch it was first reported that Mayor Dwight Jones no longer supports building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom (“Shockoe Bottom slave history focus must extend beyond jail,”). This is tremendous news--and something that all of us who’ve spoken out in support of saving Shockoe should feel particularly good about.
But our work is not over. This news prompted our president and CEO, Stephanie Meeks, to pen a letter to Mayor Jones, commending his reversal on playing baseball on hallowed ground and requesting a meeting to discuss our preferred alternative, a nine-acre memorial park that would fully commemorate Shockoe Bottom as a Site of Conscience.Please see below for the full text of the letter.
In the meantime, we are eagerly anticipating the results of the mayor’s Richmond Speaks process, where residents were encouraged to share their vision for Shockoe Bottom, specifically as it relates to his proposal for a slave history museum at the Lumpkin’s Jail site. As we state in the letter, we believe that concept is insufficient in both size and scope. We expect to learn more about the mayor’s reaction to the Richmond Speaks input and ultimately, his plans for the museum, in December.
We also shared with the mayor a compelling piece on saving Sites of Conscience by Mr. Max Page in our current issue of Preservation magazine. The story conveys that confronting the hard truths of the grave injustices perpetuated at places like Shockoe Bottom and Manzanar, a Japanese-American internment camp in California, holds real promise for healing decades and centuries of pain.
In the story Mr. Page reflects that “These sites represent a new commitment to one of the most important developments in the historic preservation movement in the last three decades: uncovering places of pain and shame in American history. Focusing on places of friction in the American landscape is giving preservation more relevance to a new generation.”
November 9, 2015
Dear Mayor Jones,
Together with our partners, Preservation Virginia and the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, and on behalf of the thousands of supporters of our National Treasure campaign to save Shockoe Bottom from inappropriate development, I want to thank you for announcing definitively that you have withdrawn your support for a baseball stadium in Shockoe
Shockoe Bottom is a true national treasure that deserves our best efforts at preservation. As Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o so eloquently expressed it, “Shockoe Bottom is a site of conscience, a place where we can bear witness to the human rights abuses of slavery, learn from the lessons of history, and spark a conscience in people so that they can choose the actions that promote justice and lasting peace today.” We could not agree more. With proper care, Shockoe Bottom, and by extension the city of Richmond, can help lead the country in a frank and much-needed discussion of slavery and its legacy in America.
Equally important is to see new economic redevelopment in Shockoe Bottom that transforms parking lots and vacant land into jobs and opportunities that benefit Richmond,especially the local African American community. But we feel strongly that any new development in Shockoe Bottom should be compatible with the reality of its difficult heritage and preceded by thorough archaeological excavation, to fully understand the resources that lie there and to inform a master plan for the district as a whole.
Public input is essential to surfacing new opportunities to shape the future of Shockoe Bottom, and as such, we commend the Richmond Speaks process. The National Trust, Defenders for Justice, Freedom & Equality and Preservation Virginia have been actively participating in the conversation and have urged our supporters to do the same.
However, it must be said that we are concerned about the current planning process, which solely focuses on the development of a museum pavilion building on the Lumpkin’s Jail site. We believe that limiting discussion to a single structure is not sufficient to convey the magnitude of human suffering that unfolded at Shockoe Bottom nor does it maximize the opportunities for reflection, learning, healing, and economic regeneration that a larger memorial could provide.
Instead, we strongly urge your support for a proper planning process that would include the nine-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park concept. This concept, generated through an open, community process, better commemorates the difficult history of this site and conveys its gravitas as a site of conscience.
I urge you to give the Memorial Park concept your full consideration. We believe strongly that this park would help make Richmond a national leader in engaging with the complex legacy of slavery, and serve as a continuing testament to your leadership and integrity as mayor. Together with our local partners, we welcome the opportunity to discuss and refine the Memorial Park concept with your input.
Stephanie K. Meeks