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LOCAL News :: Miscellaneous

No Stadium on the Graves of Slaves

While many hungrily eye Shockoe Bottom for the millions of dollars in profits they stand to make by building a baseball stadium, others in this town hold the Bottom dear to their hearts: as a place to remember history, understand the foundations of our country and make movements to heal from the unjust beginnings of the United States.

Today, Shockoe Bottom exists as a flood-ravaged area with a farmers' market and a few businesses emerging from the devastation brought by Hurricane Gaston in August. In the past, it was a thriving center for the trade of Virginia-born slaves, sent out of the state to work in bondage at plantations in the deep South. Shockoe Bottom was also the final resting place for thousands of Africans at the Burial Ground for Negroes and where slave revolter Gabriel took his last breath before being hanged by the state.

To many this powerful history is worth fighting for to preserve. The Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality are calling all friends, supporters and allies to this Wednesday's, Feb. 16, public hearing on the Shockoe Bottom Stadium proposal. The Defenders have issued a call to reclaim sacred ground. They want opposition to come out strong to the 7:30 p.m. meeting at city hall’s council chambers.
Ana Edwards of the Defenders says Shockoe Bottom comes with a value that a price tag cannot justify.

"Our issue (with Shockoe Bottom stadium) is cultural and historical and doesn't have to do with money," she said. "It has to do with the fact this is another example of not taking into account African American history in the public sector."

With much fanfare, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a series of articles earlier last week detailing elaborate plans for a $330 million development project that would bring a 400,000 square foot minor league baseball stadium, 1.2 million square feet of upscale housing and retail space to Shockoe Bottom.

To the cheers of the ruling elite of the city, this privately financed plan is being hailed as salvation for Shockoe Bottom. The financing group proposing the development, Global Development Partners, wants to invest millions of dollars into building new condominiums in the bottom. GDP says the increase in property values from those new properties would lead to more revenue collected from property taxes, with the difference being set aside to finance construction of the stadium.

Global Development Partners, the Richmond Braves and the Times-Dispatch believe that a city with a 25 percent poverty rate and serious crime issues can have some of its problems solved by building this complex. Surely, a city can only progress by offering low-wage jobs to poor folks and chic housing and shopping for its middle-class.

The T-D’s exuberant reporting has included little skepticism about the plans and made slight issue of the opposition to the ballpark. The Defenders vehemently oppose any commercial altering of the bottom because of its centrality in the U.S.’s history of slavery. In its February issue of The Richmond Defender the Defenders call the area of Shockoe Bottom sacred ground for the country’s millions of African Americans.

Between 1808 and 1865, Virginia was the main exporter of slaves to the South and much of that activity occurred in Shockoe Bottom auction houses. The Defenders believe more than 300,000 people of Africa descent were channeled to slavery through Shockoe Bottom and they say that many African Americans can trace their ancestral roots through Shockoe Bottom.

Shockoe Bottom’s proposed stadium site is also the final resting place for thousands of Africans at the Burial Ground for Negroes located north of East Broad at 16th street. The graves at the cemetery are now paved over by a parking lot.

Wednesday night's public hearing is believed to be the first of several hearings on the proposal. In response the Defenders are launching an educational campaign and more public forums on the Shockoe Bottom's sacreg ground. The Defender's Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project plans involve anthropological digging in Shockoe Bottom to further confirm the site as historically valuable for the African American community.

The Defenders believe a more powerful future awaits for the community than a baseball stadium. "When we take back the burial ground and understand its significance to our history, it’s empowering,? Edwards said. “In a poor city, it’s hard to preserve your cultural identity in face of a dominant culture. When you reclaim your history, it can strengthen your community with a sense of pride and a sense of place.?

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