Call to Action: Save Richmond’s African Burial Ground!

Thu, Jul 10, 2008

Elders, News

by Ana Edwards
Wednesday, 02 July 2008

Defenders’ Sacred Ground Project
An African burial ground in Richmond, Va., is covered by a university parking lot.

The Richmond community, especially Richmond’s Black community, is facing an immediate and historic challenge: Can we rescue the city’s oldest Black cemetery? Or will we miss this fragile and narrow opportunity to finally win respect for the ancestors who have been as disrespected in death as they were in life? Will we miss the potential to increase the body of scientific and cultural knowledge of colonial Richmond? Will we, in fact, once again negotiate away the Black community’s right to self-determination?

Virginia Commonwealth University has purchased the parking lot at 15th and East Broad streets under which lies the more-than-200-year-old “Burial Ground for Negroes.” This is the oldest Black cemetery in Richmond and one of the oldest in the entire country. It is also the site of the execution, on Oct. 10, 1800, of the great African rebellion leader Gabriel “Prosser.” VCU has temporarily closed the parking lot, saying it intends to “upgrade” it.

This is the opportunity for the community to finally reclaim this sacred ground – if we act now.

Contact the relevant public officials
Immediately contact the public officials listed below and demand:

  1. No reopening of the parking lot.
  2. No “upgrading” of the parking lot.
  3. No division of the site into a parking lot and a small memorial area.
  4. Reclamation of the entire site. In consultation with Richmond’s Black community, devise a plan to properly memorialize the Burial Ground.

Please immediately contact:

Eugene P. Trani, Office of the President, Virginia Commonwealth University, 910 W. Franklin St., Richmond, VA 23284, (804) 828-1200,

Delores McQuinn, vice president of the Richmond City Council and chair of the Slave Trail Commission of Richmond City Council Office, (804) 646-5429, office fax (804) 646-5468,

Secretary of Administration Viola O. Baskerville, Patrick Henry Building, 1111 East Broad St., Richmond, VA 23219, (804) 786-1201, fax (804) 371-0038; she heads the governor’s committee that in July will dedicate a Civil Rights monument in Capital Square.

Gov. Tim Kaine, Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor 1111 East Broad St. Richmond, VA 23219 Phone: (804) 786-2211; Fax: (804) 371-6351; because VCU is a state institution, the governor is now the highest official involved in this issue

And please send copies of e-mails, faxes or written messages to the officials to us at Defenders’ Sacred Ground Project, P.O. Box 23202, Richmond, VA 23223, (804) 644-5834,, This is very important. VCU is claiming there is little or no community interest on this issue.

Come to the site
Visit the Burial Ground. Bring flowers and other mementos to leave in honor of the ancestors. Conduct libation ceremonies. Pray. Sing. Meditate. Take a stand. Make it plain and visible that the community cares what happened here so long ago.

Hold a vigil
As often as we have been able, supporters of the Burial Ground have been gathering each day at noon at the Gabriel Marker on Broad Street. We stand holding our homemade signs: “Save Richmond’s African Burial Ground!” “Build a memorial, not a parking lot!” “Defend Richmond’s Black History.” “If you pave it, we won’t park!” Be creative – make your own signs. You’ll be surprised at how much support you’ll receive from passing motorists and pedestrians.

Raise your voice
2008 is an election year. There are now seven people running to become Richmond’s next mayor – including Rev. Dwight Jones and William Pantele. And Councilwoman McQuinn is up for re-election. We can make the Burial Ground an issue – in the campaigns for mayor, City Council, School Board, Congress – even the presidency, now that Virginia has achieved “swing-state” status. Where will Barack Obama stand on this issue?

And remember, since VCU has purchased the Burial Ground site, this is now a state matter. That means that we can – and should – demand that Gov. Tim Kaine take a stand. The timing is especially good, since the governor and First Lady Ann Holton plan to unveil the state’s first Civil Rights Memorial on Capital Square on July 21. How much more appropriate and historic that ceremony will be if Gov. Kaine has first ordered the permanent closing of the offending parking lot? And how totally empty and hypocritical would such a ceremony be if he does not?

And in that case, wouldn’t it be much more appropriate to hold a protest demonstration at Capital Square – if such a protest were led by the Black community? And, since Gov. Kaine is a national co-chair of the Obama campaign, and is being mentioned as a possible running mate, wouldn’t such a protest receive national attention? Wouldn’t it, Gov. Kaine?

As luck would have it, there will be several opportunities this month to raise the issue of the Burial Ground. Please try and attend at least some of these events. Raise your voice. Don’t assume someone else is do it, or can do it. We must become our own leaders.

Attend these events and ask this question: “Do you support the permanent closing of the parking lot and – in consultation with the Black community – properly memorializing the site of the ‘Burial Ground for Negroes’?”

  • Sunday, July 20 – Civil Rights Memorial Symposium at the Library of Virginia
  • Monday, July 21 – Civil Rights Memorial Unveiling and Dedication on Capital Square.

Ana Edwards chairs the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, which can be reached c/o Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality at P.O. Box 23202, Richmond, VA 23223, (804) 644-5834,,

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