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LOCAL News :: Historical Reclamation

10/9 Sacred Ground: Stories of Resistance and Rebellion

The Richmond Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality hold their 3rd Annual Commemoration of Gabriel's Rebellion and Sacred Ground on October 8-9, 2005
Marquette Folley, Project Director, Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibitions
10/9 Sacred Ground: Stories of Resistance and Rebellion

October 8-9, 2005 the Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality hosted their 3nd annual Sacred Ground events. Last year, the Defenders unveiled the only public memorial in Richmond to the slave organizer/insurrectionist Gabriel at 15th and Broad streets. The events are in part a commemoration of the 205th anniversary of the execution of Gabriel in Shockoe Bottom after his plan of a slave rebellion was discovered. Gabriel is celebrated for his intense desire for freedom, his broad and inclusive sense of justice, and his great skill in organizing hundreds to fight for liberation. He was 24 years old when executed by Virginia in 1800.

The events this year focused on Sacred Ground and the campaign to stop the proposed stadium construction in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom. Shockoe Bottom was once an east coast epicenter for the slave trade. Rivaled only by New Orleans and Natchez, Miss., Shockoe Bottom played a central role in with buying and selling of Africans into slavery for generations. There is a proposal to build a baseball stadium and “Market Village? in this area. The Defenders and others are fighting to turn the same area into a public remembrance of the function Shockoe Bottom played in the slavery system.

Saturday the Defenders sponsored a “Spoken Word Slam to Stop the Stadium? at Tropical Soul in Jackson Ward. On Sunday, a symposium entitled, “Sacred Ground: Sites of Significance – Stories of Resistance and Reclamation? was held at Centenary United Methodist Church in Downtown.

The symposium consisted of a diverse range of knowledgeable and experienced speakers, interspersed with song and poetry. The authoritative panelists stressed the importance of reclaiming Sacred Grounds and making them public memorials for multiple reasons. Ana Edwards of the Defenders opened up with an outline of the struggle to commemorate the role Shockoe Bottom played in the slave trade and recognizing historical sites. She stated that Shockoe Bottom is a “world heritage site.? Michael Blakey, PhD, Director of the Institute for Historical Biology, spoke of the reclaiming Sacred Ground as an affirmation of humanity. He highlighted the importance of community mobilization in establishing and protecting these sites. From the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibitions, Marquette Folley called for “historical honesty?, emphasizing the desire and need for a people to tell their own story. Tiamba Wilkerson, a Defender and member of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project demanded that Richmond confront our slave history. “The reason they handcuff our children in 2005 is because they shackled them in 1805? she said. Continuing to draw the connections from slavery to today Wilkerson stated, “The business of slavery gave rise to capitalism.? Other participants spoke on genealogy, preservation of historical sites, and African burial traditions carried into the “New World.? Poetry was performed by the Bread is Rising Poetry Collective (NYC) and Fruit of Labor (Raleigh, NC) presented a song.

At the end of the compelling presentations the audience was urged to sign the petition against the stadium and for an alternative vision for Shockoe Bottom. A vision that includes acknowledging all of Richmond’s history through celebrating the courage and strength of the enslaved and demanding accountability for the wickedness of their enslavers.

For More Information:
Shockoe Advisory Committee Meeting Cancelled

Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality – Homepage
Michael Blakey, PhD, Director, Institute for Historical Biology
Tiamba Wilkerson, Defenders Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project

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