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On the Agenda: Deciding How to Honor Slave Sites 

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Scott Elmquist

Call them dueling conversations.

Nearly 15 months after the failure of Mayor Dwight Jones’ vigorous campaign to build a $79 million baseball stadium and mixed-use project in Shockoe Bottom, he stood just across the James River last week to get something else jump-started.

Amid Richmond Slave Trail markers depicting Richmond’s horrific history of abuse, he pitched another series of talks about what should be done to honor slave sites.

“We will have a citywide conversation” about how to properly commemorate such historic points as Lumpkin’s Jail and the African Burial Ground, he said during the news conference Aug. 13 at Ancarrow’s Landing Park.

Jones plans open discussions Sept. 10 at Martin Luther King Middle School and Sept. 15 at Huguenot High School, followed by others.

Two days after the mayor’s announcement, civic activist Ana Edwards dismissed his outreach during a meeting of about 100 people at the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in the East End.

“This is not a new idea,” Edwards said. “People have already started the process.”

She and her group, Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality, are pushing for a 9-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park that would honor the 300,000 black slaves who were sold there during the first half of the 19th century.

Unlike Jones’ defunct plan that would have included a baseball park, flashy bars, apartments and stores, Edwards has been pitching an open-air park that her group has proposed for several years. It would honor the memories of slaves imprisoned at Lumpkin’s Jail and that of slaves who were hanged in 1800, including Henrico County’s Gabriel, for planning a revolt.

Two blocks of property, worth about $2.5 million, would need to be acquired. Otherwise, she says, the rest of the land involved is available and designated for historic use. The city has $8 million in local funds for it and the state has $11 million available. The plan is scheduled to go to City Council on Sept. 14.

Jones provided no details about what kind of memorial might emerge from his Richmond Speaks plan to get ideas from the community, and declined to answer questions along those lines from reporters. Jones recently suggested that a variety of sites be proposed for a new ballpark.

First District Councilman Jonathan Baliles, who attended the mayor’s event, said he thought the idea of a citywide conversation on slave commemoration “was good now that we have the other distraction [the stadium] out of the way.”

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