• Help Shape Historic Shockoe Bottom’s Future!

    July 11, 2016

    Shockoe Bottom in downtown Richmond was once the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade. Its network of auction houses, prisons, workshops, and a burial ground made up the largest slave market after New Orleans.

    Today, Shockoe Bottom is a patchwork of mostly vacant lots and surface parking. Plans to redevelop the district have been controversial—most recently, public and political opposition fought off the mayor’s proposal to construct a baseball stadium in the heart of the Bottom. This proposal has since been replaced by the mayor’s plan for a museum atop the Devil’s Half-Acre/Lumpkin’s Jail site, a small sliver of the historically significant land in Shockoe Bottom.

    These projects are not appropriate to convey the magnitude of human suffering that occurred here, nor do they maximize the opportunity for healing, understanding and economic development.

    A plan for a memorial park seeks to balance reflection and remembrance with equitable economic development. The result of a community process led by the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, the concept has recently been refined by UMass Amherst professors Max Page and Joseph Krupczynski with the Center for Design Engagement (CDE). which was broadly supported during a public presentation in June, 2016.

    The CDE design proposal is now available for public review and input. Key graphics are captured in the slideshow below, and the full design proposal is available for download.

    Please complete the form below to provide comments to the plan’s authors.

    Thank you for helping us shape the future of Shockoe Bottom, a true National Treasure.

    Your Comments

  • New Design Proposal for Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park Released

    June 28, 2016

    We need “the courage to confront and confess the history that has made us." –Leonard Pitts, columnist

    In the spirit of this call to action, a team from the UMass Center for Design Engagement (CD*E) was invited by the Richmond-based Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project to conduct a series of community meetings, discussions, and presentations on how to advance a community-generated design proposal that commemorates and revitalizes Shockoe Bottom.

    After an intense period of listening, discussing, and distilling, the CD*E team presented a preliminary design proposal at Richmond’s new Black History Museum and Cultural Center in front of a standing-room only crowd.

    Now the team has polished that presentation and made it available online.

    As conveyed at the presentation, the design proposal for a Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park seeks to recognize and reinvigorate this landscape as a site of conscience, a sacred site, and a place that can help build economic opportunity for all Richmonders.

    Elements of their vision include creating a focal point for the district called Shockoe Square that would serve as a new gateway to Shockoe Bottom’s memorial sites and provide space for interpretation, outdoor films, music and drama performances, and a visually and symbolically striking “grove of light” installation.

    Other features include a digital interpretive wall that would be a dynamic canvas for a variety of works, including art, films, and the names of the enslaved; and, a memorial landscape at the African Burial Ground that would incorporate Shockoe Creek and an elevated footpath to convey respect and provoke reflection in this sacred place.

    In the educational and economic development arena, the team suggested local universities unite to form a new Center for Building Arts and Sustainable Development to help young people and formerly incarcerated individuals gain vocational skills. Recommendations also include creating a community benefit fund and a land trust to ensure that historic preservation work, educational investment, and affordable housing occur alongside commercial development.

    Rendering of the Center for Building Arts and Sustainable Agriculture proposed for the historic Seaboard Building

    photo by: C*DE

    Rendering of the Center for Building Arts and Sustainable Agriculture proposed for the historic Seaboard Building.

  • Join a Design Workshop to Enhance the Memorial Park Concept for Shockoe Bottom

    May 23, 2016

    As we shared earlier, thanks to the advocacy of people like you, the controversial proposal to place a minor league baseball stadium in the Bottom was withdrawn last fall, leaving the fate of the district still up in the air. City officials have indicated their desire to place a traditional museum atop a small slice of Shockoe Bottom, making the area vulnerable to large-scale, inappropriate development and missing an opportunity to think bolder and braver in planning Shockoe’s future.

    With funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the UMass/Center for Design Engagement (C*DE) will travel to Richmond to join the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, Preservation Virginia, the National Trust, and the Storefront for Community Design in holding a community design charrette to refine and enhance the concept for the Sacred Ground Memorial Park. This work is a direct reaction to the community’s clear call for a fuller interpretation of Shockoe’s history, as expressed during the mayor’s Richmond Speaks process.

    The six-day project, from May 29 through June 4, is a chance for community members to propose ideas and directly contribute to a series of design proposals that will help advance the ongoing effort to remember and revitalize nine acres of Shockoe Bottom.

    So join us on Tuesday, May 31, or Wednesday, June 1, from 7–9 p.m. at the Storefront for Community Design (205 E. Broad Street, Richmond) to add your vision to the plans for a Sacred Ground Memorial Park.

    Then come see the design proposals that will result from this public input at a special unveiling on Friday, June 3, at 5:30 p.m. at Richmond’s new Black History Museum and Cultural Center (122 W. Leigh Street.)

    The success of this workshop depends upon the active participation of community members. Help us ensure a bright future for Shockoe Bottom that respects its past!

    Email Erica Stewart at estewart@savingplaces.org with any questions.

  • Richmonders Speak!

    December 10, 2015

    Out of Richmond today came a stirring editorial from the Richmond Times-Dispatch that urges the City of Richmond to think bigger and bolder in its commemoration of slave history at Shockoe Bottom. This statement comes as the City presents tonight the results of “Richmond Speaks,” the name the Mayor has given to the public vetting of a City concept for a small museum on the Lumpkin’s Jail site.

    After reviewing the “Richmond Speaks” report released by the City yesterday, today’s editorial concludes “Richmonders seem generally agreed on the need to memorialize the city’s role in the slave trade and the many victims of that trade who were passed through here in bondage. Now a growing consensus is emerging that the city must not short-change such an effort.”

    The editors go on to argue that, “Turning Lumpkin’s Jail into a museum is a crucial first step, but it is far from sufficient. The slave trade was not confined to Lumpkin’s; the entire Shockoe Bottom area is hallowed with the blood and tears of slavery’s victims.” The full editorial may be read here.

    We wholeheartedly agree, and have been staunch and vocal supporters of a more comprehensive and thoughtful plan to preserve the full nine acres of Shockoe Bottom.

    So help us seize this critical moment for Shockoe Bottom’s future! If you are local to RVA, please attend the public meeting tonight at the University of Richmond from 6-8 pm. More information can be found here. If you’re not, stay up to date on developments using the Twitter hashtag #SaveShockoe and stay tuned for a call to action to send the message to city leaders that Shockoe Bottom deserves more.

  • Great news! Baseball in Shockoe Bottom Strikes Out!

    November 23, 2015

    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

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