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Officials Launch Plans to Build Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park

aerial view of devils half acre
Aerial view of the Devil's Half Acre site. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons CC-4.0)

An initiative to memorialize the complete history of African Americans in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom is officially launching. 

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, other elected officials and members of the Shockoe Alliance announced their plans to invest $25-50 million in capital improvement budget amendment funds over the next five years to create the Shockoe Area Memorial Park. In the meantime, the city is putting down $3.5 million to get the project started. It will be funded through surplus funds paid to the courts from city tax sales. 

“I'm confident that we can, and we will, make this project happen in an innovative, inclusive and collaborative way,” Stoney said. “A heritage and interpretive center or museum will give us the opportunity to create a space that serves as a site of conscious memorialization reflection, education and atonement.”

The project will span over two existing historic sites in Shockoe Bottom and a third region believed to be significant: the African American Burial Ground; the Devil’s Half Acre, where enslaved people were jailed; and two blocks east of the railroad tracks, that contain currently unexcavated historical sites. The effort will capitalize on the use of green space and will utilize existing city structures to build an educational center.

The Sacred Ground Historical Reformation Project has worked on ways to recognize the area’s history of racial injustice for over a decade. Ana Edwards is the project’s chair. 

“Today's commitment to the memorial is also a commitment to the importance of the Black community having the primary voice in the memorial park’s development to ensure that those missing parts of American and human history are told, are truthful and relevant to the pursuit of justice and social progress,” Edwards said. 

Edwards added that very history is at the center of the recent Black Lives Matter protests. 

“Because of the Richmond rebellions of 2020, we are here,” Edwards said. “We cannot forget that the history that we seek to acknowledge and make plain for all to see and understand in Shockoe bottom is at the heart of recent events. And none of us here has the right to ignore the inequities in our contemporary society that began during slavery.”

Edwards urged officials to consider human needs by meeting demonstrators’ demands, which include: 

  • Reopening the case of Marcus David Peters — a man who was shot by police in 2018 while experiencing a mental health crisis;
  • Dropping all charges against protesters arrested over the last two months;
  • Releasing the names of officers under investigation for use-of-force misconduct;
  • Defunding the police, and using the resulting resources to fund public service needs

“We must have truly safe and truly affordable housing and healthcare for everyone, accessible transportation to employment with a living wage and the best possible schools for our children,” Edwards said. “It is also a commitment to the black community who we’ve so long kept at an economic disadvantage — we'll see the barriers to their innate creative energies removed. They can flourish and ensure that they and their children are the first beneficiaries of the elevation of their own cultural resources.”

Advocates added that shedding light on African Americans’ experiences — from enslavement to emancipation — will instill pride and empower Black youth.