In “Jefferson's Hotels” (Arts & Culture, Oct. 15), Edwin Slipek Jr. writes: “The Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, in making life easier for commuting employees, paved a spot above the graves of African-American slaves. But how could it have known?” VCU has known about the burial ground since at least 2006 when a meeting with [VCU President Eugene] Trani was called by the Richmond Slave Trail Commission, established in 1996, to discuss an alternative to the then-planned repaving of the parking lot sitting where the burial ground rests. The city itself has known about the location of the burial ground since as far back as 1992, when Richmond historian Elizabeth Cann Kambourian researched and definitively declared the existence and location of the lot. And it was brought to the attention of the community and the university again in June. Recently the Department of Historic Resources and VCU declared that according to two archival maps of the area in Shockoe Bottom dating from 1817 and 1835, when superimposed onto more current maps, show that the cemetery is located squarely beneath Interstate 95 with the extent of the burial ground on university property being only 50 square feet adjacent to the highway. However, new research by Michael L. Blakey, director of the Institute for Historical Biology at the College of William and Mary, gives reason to believe that the area in which the burial ground is located could be much larger. He thinks that the maps used in the Historic Resources findings are not sufficient evidence to silence any feelings that the burial ground is in actuality much larger. He believes that a limited excavation using underground radar technology would help determine the real limits of the cemetery. At a recent public forum with the Defenders of Freedom Justice and Equality, Blakey pointed out interesting reasons for his skepticism, one being that the borders on the map (not just for the burial ground) may not be an accurate portrayal of the actual boundaries of the property, but rather just a border for the text itself. We must know for sure before we can settle and move forward with a memorial. All or nothing! Kenneth Yates Richmond
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