Footprint of Main Street Station, planned slave memorial

12/8/2017, 5:43 p.m.

Re “Opponents fear Main Street Station plans will run over slave memorial,” Free Press Nov. 30-Dec. 2 edition:

The front page story by Jeremy Lazarus that appeared in last week’s issue of the Richmond Free Press is a must-read. It pertains to the growing concern in Richmond about the effects on the slave district of expanding the footprint of Main Street Station as part of the proposed DC2RVA high-speed rail project.

Transportation, however, is only part of a much larger concern. Any development of Shockoe Bottom — whether related to transportation, office and commercial development, housing, entertainment or a mix — will only diminish Richmond’s most hallowed ground.

African-American slavery, plus the displacement and wholesale slaughter of native peoples, constitute our nation’s holocaust.

Was the suffering and death here in Richmond, New Orleans and Charleston, S.C., any less than that of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau? The big difference between the Nazi camps and what we had in Richmond was that the former are still visible.

Richmond’s slave district, in contrast, was literally trashed and is at least 12 feet underground. After the Civil War, the slave center became a dumping ground, which only got larger during the 1950s when the enormous tonnage of rock and dirt displaced by the building of Interstate 95 was dumped in Shockoe Bottom.

What the City of Richmond decides to do with Shockoe Bottom will define who we are as a people. Do we aspire to be a great city with a booming population and world-class economy, or do we aspire to be a good city where truth is more valuable than wealth and where reconciliation and community building are more precious than rankings and prestige?



The writer is emeritus professor of urban studies and planning at Virginia Commonwealth University and a retired senior fellow of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond.