Slave Burial Ground Lawsuit, Round 3 

Former City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin's lawsuit demanding that the Virginia Department of Historic Resources determine the exact boundaries of Shockoe Bottom's Old Negro Burial Ground has no legal standing, says Kathleen Kilpatrick, the department's director.

In court filings responding to the suit, Kilpatrick says her position doesn't require her to delineate the exact boundaries of the former slave burial ground. El-Amin's demands, she says in the filings, “would require DHR to evaluate, preserve and protect each and every historical site on state-controlled land at the request of any person who may have an interest in a site. That is patently impossible given both the authority and the resources that the Commonwealth allocates to DHR.”

Earlier this year El-Amin, erstwhile activist, convicted felon and former lawyer, demanded an excavation of the historic cemetery, which is largely obscured by Interstate 95 and a state-owned parking lot. His original lawsuit was tossed out July 1; the amended suit demands that Kilpatrick “properly identify, explore, evaluate, preserve and protect the African Burial Ground.”

In her motion to dismiss the suit, Kilpatrick argues, among other things, that El-Amin's assertion that his ancestors likely are buried in the cemetery does not grant him sufficient legal standing to represent himself in the suit. She also contends that El-Amin's cited positions as founder of the Society for Preservation of African American Antiquities and a former Slave Trail Commission chairman “have no bearing on the case.”

El-Amin surrendered his license to practice law in 2002 following a state bar suspension and investigations into client complaints.

Kilpatrick contends the slave burial ground isn't in danger, and that an archeological excavation could disturb the remains unnecessarily. “While the boundaries of the Burial Ground have not been located with precision, its presence and general location have been identified,” she says in her motion to dismiss. “Currently, the Burial Ground and the remains contained therein are not in any imminent or active danger of being damaged beyond what damage may have occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Kilpatrick cites a 2008 state archival investigation into the cemetery's boundaries and a 2009 Virginia Historical Society symposium on the topic as evidence “in the furtherance of my broad duties,” and says that she's “offered to help raise funds to support establishing a memorial in the vicinity.”


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