Thursday, September 11, 2008

Portion of Virginia slave burial site saved

A portion of a 250-year-old burial ground for slaves and freed Negroes that now lies beneath a parking lot will be preserved and recognized as part of the city of Richmond, Va.’s effort to confront its slave-trading history. The 50-by-100-foot section of the former Burial Ground for Negroes had been destined to continue as a parking lot under the ownership of Virginia Commonwealth University.

However, VCU, which earlier this summer faced protests over its failure to recognize the burial ground, has changed its mind. VCU recently announced an agreement with the Richmond Slave Trail Commission to preserve that section of its parking lot for a future memorial and quit parking cars in that section.

The university has blocked off the portion of the parking lot identified with the burial ground, but is parking cars on the rest of the property that it bought earlier this year. No timetable has been given for development of the memorial. The commission is taking charge of that effort. A panel created by the city is developing a series of historic stops to illustrate Richmond’s robust role in the slave trade and this would be one.

Between 1808 and 1865, the city was the second largest slave auction site in the nation. The burial ground lies just north of the former site of Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, which is part of the trail and where the commission is undertaking an archaeological dig. Before the Civil War, the jail, dubbed the Devil’s Half-Acre, was the largest holding pen for slaves. After the war, Lumpkin’s became the initial site for a school for newly freed slaves that eventually became Virginia Union University.

The burial ground was used from around 1750 to around 1812, after which the city approved a new cemetery for Negro Richmond residents further north. According to the state history agency, Interstate 95 was built over the main portion of the burial grounds, while the asphalt parking lot seals 10 feet or more of fill that has accumulated since the last person was interred.
This aspect of American history should be preserved. The early slaves were important in building this great nation. At the same time, there is an unfortunate legacy to remember about slavery. Especially the racism and the inhumanity. All the more reason why slave burial grounds should be treated the same way as an Indian burial ground or anything like that.

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