Preserving slave district is an ‘ethical imperative’

12/15/2017, 8:50 a.m.

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

Richmond leaders soon will be deciding the future location of high-speed rail lines and stations in the region. I am writing to advocate strongly for the Boulevard single station option as the preferred alternative for the Washington to Richmond high-speed rail line.

The Boulevard option is less expensive and speedier than the split service Staples Mill/Main Street Station option. It also will maximize multimodal transportation alternatives, with close and easy access to three interstate highways, other high capacity roads, an intercity bus station, the new GRTC Pulse bus rapid transit system, as well as enhanced bicycle and pedestrian access.

There are other equally compelling reasons to prefer the Boulevard option. For years, many Richmond citizens have advocated for the creation of a park in close proximity to the Main Street location that would memorialize Richmond’s unique role as a center of the slave trade.

Last year, the National Park Service called the Lumpkin’s Jail site in Shockoe Bottom “one of only a few intact resources … that can represent the massive interstate slave trade which operated throughout the Shockoe Bottom area of Richmond in the early part of the 19th century...”

It is not a stretch to conclude that the Richmond slave district in Shockoe Bottom represents the single most historic, cultural and archaeological asset included in the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s high-speed rail study area.

Richmond City Council has recognized the “outstanding universal value” of Lumpkin’s Jail, the African Burial Ground and the Slave Trail, unanimously approving a resolution in 2013 authorizing pursuit of further steps to attain designation for this entire area as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Expansion of Main Street Station would have a severely negative and devastating impact on the historic preservation of this area.

I am among thousands of Richmonders who are descended from enslaved individuals, many of whom were buried on or near the land needed for an expanded Main Street Station. In fact, DRPT’s own draft Environmental Impact Statement acknowledges that the “potential for intact remains below pavement is high” on this property. Paving over these remains dishonors the memory of those who were enslaved, forcibly brought to Richmond and then helped to build our nation. Their suffering and sacrifices need to be recognized and commemorated, not obscured and forgotten.

It is nothing less than an ethical imperative that we take action to preserve the priceless historic and moral assets that are such an integral part of who we are as Richmonders, Virginians, Americans and citizens of the world.



The writer represents the 2nd District on Richmond City Council.