Feb 29, 2024 - News

Massive Shockoe Project to memorialize Richmond's past with trade of enslaved people

A man stands infront of a screen with a plan on it

Shockoe Project architect Burt Pinnock. Photo: Karri Peifer/Axios

Richmond's decades in the making vision to tell the full story of the city's role in the American slave trade seems to be finally coming to fruition.

State of play: City officials unveiled this week a master plan for The Shockoe Project, a massive multi-faceted plan that calls for nearly a dozen cultural sites across two campuses in Shockoe Valley.

  • Mayor Stoney, Del. Delores McQuinn and members of City Council were among the officials at the unveiling.

Why it matters: The project will take shape on the very sites in Richmond where for decades tens of thousands of enslaved humans — mothers, fathers, sons and daughters — were imprisoned, buried and sold off like chattel to destinations throughout the South.

  • Those transactions of people made Richmond the nation's second-largest market for the buying and selling of enslaved people for much of the 19th century.

Various groups have been working on commemorating the city's role in the slave trade since at least the 1990s, but The Shockoe Project pulls the pieces and partners together into one comprehensive plan with a clear timeline and budget.

a rendering showing a massive museum at night surrounded by highways
A rendering of the site from the north side of Broad. Image: Courtesy of the city of Richmond

Zoom in: The project's footprint is 10 acres straddling Broad Street and beginning inside the back half of the Main Street Station train shed.

  • It pushes north from there, running along 16th Street and across Broad, ending just north of Marshall Street.

The first piece of the project, the Shockoe Institute, is slated to open next summer inside Main Street Station with an introductory gallery on the history of the transatlantic and domestic slave trade.

The last piece of project is the National Slavery Museum, a 62,000-square-foot state-of-the-art museum dedicated to the American slave trade. It will anchor the project and house exhibits, resource libraries, oral histories and more.

  • It should open in 2037 to coincide with the city's 300th birthday.

In between, and rolling out of the next dozen are so years, plans call for:

  • A 21,000-square-foot building commemorating Lumpkin's Slave Jail, dubbed the Devil's Half Acre by the enslaved people held there.
  • A garden and event space.
  • A pedestrian bridge across Broad.
  • A restaurant and retail pavilion on the north side of Broad.
  • A reflection pool.
  • The existing African Burial Ground.
  • Plus, public art and improvement to existing sites, like the Richmond Slave Trail and Winfree Cottage.

What they're saying: "The Shockoe Project is our Smithsonian," the lead architect on the project, Burt Pinnock, said at the master plan unveiling. "The 10 acres are our National Mall."

By the numbers: The entire project has an estimated $265 million price tag, half of which is dedicated to the National Slavery Museum.

  • Through grants and other funding, the project currently has around $48 million on hand.

What's next: Design work is happening for the South Campus, Shockoe Institute and Lumpkin Jail site with construction beginning this year and early next for those pieces.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Richmond.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Richmond stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Richmond.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more