• 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.

    Sincerely,

    Stephanie K. Meeks

  • When the Worlds Came to Richmond

    October 1, 2015

    Last week, we took our #SaveShockoe message to the Worlds! The UCI Road World Championship bike races, that is. For just the second time in its history, cycling's pinnacle event was held in the US, and Richmond was chosen as host. We used the opportunity to join our partners in urging Mayor Jones to drop his plan for baseball in Shockoe Bottom and instead support the nine acre memorial park plan.

    In a press statement, National Trust vice president of Public Affairs, Germonique Ulmer argued that: "There is renewed public debate across the country about how we understand and memorialize the painful legacy of slavery, and Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom lies in the crosshairs of this important conversation. As the international cycling world’s attention focuses on this historic southern city, its leaders should take a thoughtful look at this sacred site and plan for a future that respects its significance, not just to Richmond, but to the whole world."

    Our support for the nine acre memorial park concept was also conveyed in a timely letter to the editor in the Washington Post by our president, Stephanie Meeks, which stated that "this park would provide much-needed space for learning, reflection and healing of slavery’s lasting scars and a powerful template for how we should address the complex and difficult history of the 'peculiar institution' nationwide. It would also be a testament to Mr. Jones’s forward-thinking leadership in Richmond, long after the bike races have run their course."

    We brought this message to the crowd of international spectators during the men's and women's elite races, to a very warm reception. Join us in urging Mayor Jones to adopt the Sacred Ground Memorial Park plan!

  • Speaking up for Shockoe Bottom

    September 18, 2015

    On September 10 and 15, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones convened public meetings to present his concept for a small history museum atop the Lumpkin’s Jail site in Shockoe Bottom, a place so sinister it was called the “Devil’s Half-Acre.” While we appreciate the mayor’s effort to stir public discourse about how best to commemorate this important and difficult chapter in the history of our city and country, the mayor’s plan for Lumpkin’s Jail simply does not go far enough.

    As expressed in a statement from our president, Stephanie K. Meeks,

    “We join our partners in supporting an alternative plan that would create a memorial park and an interpretive center on nine acres of historically significant land in Shockoe Bottom. This innovative concept would better acknowledge Richmond’s unvarnished history, recognize the continuing modern day impacts of slavery, and promote interactive dialogue to move forward and embrace a just and peaceful world. In order to fully mark Shockoe Bottom’s past and convey its meaning for future generations, we urge the public to join us in calling on the mayor to do more to tell Shockoe’s story.”

    For more information, read Stephanie’s full statement and a news story by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the community’s reaction to the mayor’s proposal, which quotes Stephanie.

    With the UCI Road World Championship bike races just around the corner, we’ll need your help in sending a strong message to the mayor in support of saving Shockoe. Stay tuned!

  • Time to Throw Out Baseball in the Bottom Once and For All

    August 4, 2015

    In a letter to the editor published today by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Rob Nieweg of NTHP and Elizabeth Kostelny of Preservation Virginia urge Richmond's leaders to put the idea of playing baseball at a new stadium in Shockoe Bottom firmly to rest.

    "While Mayor Dwight Jones has gone on the record recently to put the responsibility of choosing the location of a new stadium for the Flying Squirrels squarely on the shoulders of the team, we believe that a broad community conversation — with special attention to the views of the African-American community — should determine the fate of Shockoe Bottom, an internationally significant historic place that can both bear witness to human rights abuses and promote a more just and peaceful world.

    It is time for Richmond’s leaders — in the public and private sectors — to expressly abandon the idea of a baseball stadium in Shockoe, build on the Slave Trail Commission’s work, and throw their support behind a new vision for Shockoe Bottom, like the sacred ground memorial park now being envisioned by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality."

    The full text of the letter to the editor may be read here.

    This builds upon recent media stories that have stirred up debate over Shockoe's future. In a July 20 interview, Mayor Dwight Jones stated that current home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels will become the site of a future children's hospital after the 2017 season and that building a new stadium in Shockoe is still a viable option. Mayor Jones said he is leaving it up to the team to decide which location best serves their needs. This prompted a July 25 editorial from the Richmond Times-Dispatch that concluded baseball and historic preservation would not work in Shockoe Bottom and urged stadium backers to find another site.

    The editorial also argued that Shockoe should become a center for truth and reconciliation, proposing that "restored buildings and burial grounds could be joined by new structures to honor the slaves and those who made the long march to freedom and equality.… A museum dedicated to slavery and emancipation, to segregation and the civil rights movement would be ideal for the environs. Physical structures would have a living impact by creating the truth and reconciliation commission the United States ought to welcome. This can be done. This should be done.”

    The editors went on to assert that, “The protests [against the Shockoe stadium plan] served as reminders that neither Virginia nor the United States has directly addressed slavery, its consequences, which linger, and Jim Crow, slavery’s successor vehicle of oppression.”

    These strong words are especially meaningful given the editorial board's earlier support for a stadium in Shockoe Bottom, and their June 26, 2014 editorial that expressed their lack of interest in any further discussion of how Shockoe's difficult history should inform its future.

    It is obvious that the issue of baseball in Shockoe Bottom is heating up, and will continue to do so as the world turns its attention to the International Road Championship bike races that will be held in Richmond from September 19-27. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please take this opportunity to tell Mayor Jones that playing baseball on hallowed ground is a bad idea. Thank you!

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