Shockoe Bottom was the center of Richmond’s slave trade and 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.
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.
Much of Shockoe Bottom has since been razed and paved over, often ignored 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 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. Better still, Mayor Levar Stoney and the City Council made plans in 2017 to build an interpretative center that remembers the devastation Shockoe Bottom caused African-Americans. While the proposed center is a step in the right direction, it is not enough to reflect the magnitude of the difficult history behind this sacred ground.
The National Trust is working with local partners, including Preservation Virginia, RVArchaeology, Solomon Northup Foundation, Partnership for Smarter Growth, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project to add a memorial park on nine acres of historically significant land in Shockoe Bottom.
The idea for a memorial park came directly from community members and the Trust's local partners in Richmond, who are dedicated to restoring Shockoe Bottom's legacy as a place of endurance and resistance. The Trust and our allies believe that Shockoe Bottom must 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.
If funded by Richmond's local government, the memorial park and interpretive center can transform almost forgotten sacred grounds into a place that addresses the complicated American narrative around freedom, justice, and equality.
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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