Mar 14, 2023 - News

Shockoe Bottom might actually get a center commemorating slavery

Main Street Station, historic railway station, train shed - big empty space

Main Street Station's train shed. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

After decades of trying, Richmond is getting closer to actually creating an official center in Shockoe Bottom to teach visitors about the city's role in the trade of enslaved African Americans.

Driving the news: Mayor Levar Stoney's 2024 budget proposal, unveiled last week, includes $2 million toward the Shockoe Heritage Campus Interpretive Center. It comes two months after the city was awarded an $11 million grant for the project.

Why it matters: Shockoe Bottom, known today for its restaurants and nightlife, was home to the nation's second-largest market for the trade of enslaved people for much of the 19th century.

  • For more than 100 years, that history was buried under industrial debris and parking lot gravel.

What's happening: The $11 million grant from New York-based Mellon Foundation will fund the creation of the interpretive center in 12,300 square feet on the first floor of the Main Street Station train shed.

  • It will feature a welcome center and exhibitions.
  • The center will include the stories of African American, Indigenous, Jewish and other immigrant populations in Richmond history.
  • The grant is the first significant private funding toward the project.

What they're saying: "This is a significant step toward bringing the Heritage Campus to fruition and toward telling the story of enslaved and freed people," Stoney said in a statement.

On Valentine's Day, the city appointed Marland Buckner, a Richmond-based historian who focuses on African American history, to lead the project.

Catch up quick: For 30 years, community activists and descendants of enslaved people have been pushing to preserve places that are significant to the city's role in the domestic slave trade.

  • Shockoe Bottom is home to many, including the notorious Lumpkin's Jail — the site where the men, women and children waiting to be sold were shackled, sometimes for months, in subhuman conditions.

Meanwhile, city leaders have tried various plans to revitalize the city' oldest neighborhood.

In July 2021, the city released its Shockoe Small Area Plan, identifying a Heritage Campus as the centerpiece of the revitalization.

  • The proposed campus will sit on 9 acres of city-owned property, including Lumpkin's Jail, and link to Main Street Station, per city documents.

What's next: The city did not respond to a request for more details or comment, but the Shockoe Small Area Plan is slated to go before the city's planning commission for inclusion in the master plan next week.

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