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Sen. Warner Tours Former Richmond Slave Jail During Black History Month

Woman speaking to men
Ana Edwards, chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, gives a tour of the Lumpkin's Slave Jail site to Sen. Mark Warner (right) and Mayor Levar Stoney (center). (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) was in Richmond Tuesday, marking Black History Month with a tour of Lumpkin’s Slave Jail in Shockoe Bottom.

Warner was joined by Mayor Levar Stoney and members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, including Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) and Del. Hala Ayala (D-Woodbridge). The jail was operated by the notorious Robert Lumpkin during the early 1800’s when Richmond was the second-largest slave-trading hub in the country.

Warned was led on the tour by Ana Edwards, chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project. Edwards said Lumpkin could sell up to 90 enslaved people each week at markets in Shockoe Bottom.

“One of the reasons [Lumpkin] is considered so notorious is because he added an additional service to his ‘product line’,” she said. “He would, for a fee, break the spirit of rebellious enslaved people.”

Edwards said one of the most famous examples is Anthony Burns. Burns was arrested in Boston under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, sparking riots by abolitionists. He eventually lost his case and was sent back to Richmond for auction.

“It ties us directly to the abolition struggle in Boston at this time,” Edwards said. “It’s an amazing set of stories that this full 9-acres has to tell us.”

Edwards also told Warner about the effort to turn the site into a museum on the slave trade and a memorial park. It would incorporate both the jail site, also known as the Devil’s Half Acre, and the Richmond African Burial Ground, the city’s first cemetery for Black residents.

Richmond City Council recently appropriated nearly $2 million for the planning and design work, and Warner said he’ll work to see if the federal government can also pitch in.

“Under the previous administration, funding for historic or cultural renovations was kind of cut back,” Warner said. “My hope is you’ve got an administration now that’s a little more friendly about telling all of our history.”

The federal support could augment potential funding for the project coming from the state. In December, Governor Ralph Northam pledged nearly $10 million for the museum and memorial park as part of his budget proposal. A final budget hasn’t been approved yet by the General Assembly.

Following the tour of Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, Warner fielded questions from the press about the January 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol and President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings.

Asked about the potential for a 9/11 Commission-style panel to investigate the insurrection and what led to it, Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said they’ll be taking a close look at rising “anti-government extremism.”

“Oftentimes these groups have ties to similar groups in Europe,” he said. “We’ve seen in countries like Poland and Hungary where those anti-government extremist groups literally take over the government. And this is a national security threat.”

Warner also stood by his vote to convict Trump of inciting the January 6 insurrection. He criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for only speaking out after voting to acquit.