Why Shockoe’s a Good Spot for a Slavery Museum

For once, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has gotten something right, Or, at least, columnist Michael Paul Williams has, but then he usually does.

Williams says that instead of a major, $330 million ballpark and assorted retail, office and condos in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, Doug Wilder’s failed National Slavery Museum should be built there.

That makes sense. The area was the second largest slave market int he U.S. next to New Orleans. Thousands of black Africans were shipped in in chains and then auctioned off to plantations in spots farther South such as Alabama and Mississippi. Families were broken. Marriages dissolved as overseers stood by with guns and whips.

This sorry chapter in Virginia’s and Richmond’s history needs to be remembered and commemorated every bit as much as Confederate history is on Monument Avenue, at the museum near VCU’s Medical Center and by the stars and bars hanging next to the Virginia Museum of Art.

Wilder, the cantankerous former Richmond mayor and first Black ever elected to be governor, had backed a National Slavery Museum just off Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg for years. But after seven or eight years of fundraising, the project is bust. In fact, its Website is still soliciting donations even though it is no longer authorized to do so. Characteristically, Wilder can’t be found.

The region’s lack of leadership led to the Triple AAA Richmond Braves bolting to an Atlanta suburb last year. The awful Diamond was just too crappy a place to play and the region did nothing to fix it.

North Carolina real estate company Highwoods Properties wants to put a new stadium in Shockoe Bottom as part of a new, privately-funded complex. But that, too, has issues since parking is already tight or non-existent in the area and it is too near the historic Church Hill neighborhood with its signature Georgian homes.

Williams’ solution is a good one. Put the new stadium somewhere else and put in a slavery museum not far from the old auction blocks and the prison for slaves. The spot is literally right under I-95, a major north-south artery. Many families heading to Disneyworld could stop off and learn something. And as Williams points out, the Fredericksburg plan would have been part of a theme park, as if the tragedy of slavery is anything worth celebrating.

As for the ballpark, rebuild the Diamond. It’s a great location where I-95 and I-64 meet. I’ve always been able to get there easily. Too bad a decent location isn’t available next to the James River. But Williams’ solution is the next best option.

Peter Galuszka

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16 responses to “Why Shockoe’s a Good Spot for a Slavery Museum”

  1. Well, I hope Richmond has better luck – at bringing the concept to reality than Fredericksburg did.

    If not mistaken, they basically got a prime site for next to nothing which left them in pretty good shape to raise funds for construction – which – did not go very well as far as can be determined – because info about their status and progress – was not abundant.

    In some respects, the idea that such an attraction could sit compatibly – high on a hill overlooking I-95 and a defunct quarry on one side and upscale commercial on the back side – was/is questionable so perhaps a site in central Richmond would be the key to moving it forward.

    Part of the presume “fit” for a Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg was the nexus with the Waller Plantation in Spotsylvania County where Kunta Kinte’s life was depicted in Roots.

    But the concept never got off of the ground and inquiries to folks in the county about the modern-day location of said plantation brings different replies – some of which say that the Plantation was and is – fiction.

    Still… it would seem that an allied site in the area actually depicting plantation life – e.g. Williamsburg, Jamestown, etc might have had some promise.

    Fredericksburg itself had a fairly active “underground rail” route during those times.

    However, I am white, not black so my feeble attempts at understanding how black folks might feel about something along these lines… might well be not so good.

    and then we have ..um… the interests groups which are not on the same paths.

    there are those who would like to see that era better depicted historically – memorialized properly…

    and then there are those who see the economic potential

    and the two perspectives may well be separate….

  2. You can do BOTH in the Bottom, the space is big enough, and the Shockoe Center does incorporate both. But flood plain and green space issues make it necessary for a development like Shockoe Center if you are going to develop that land at all.

    Every year it’s the same old thing. People use grand, vague ideas to shoot down concrete plans, and once those concrete plans are shot down, nothing happens to follow up on the grand plans. If Shockoe Center is shot down, the land in the Bottom will sit vacant, I guarantee it, and Richmond will have nothing new to be proud of in the Bottom except for a historic site that is paved over and sits as a run-down wasteland. Williams isn’t doing Richmond a service with these articles….he obviously hasn’t researched the issues, and all he is doing is misleading people and putting ideas in their heads that can/will never happen.

    And as for “Church Hill opposition,” the vote of the CHA was close, and the CHA (which IS largely old and white) does NOT speak for all of Church Hill. Church Hill residents do not have the final say on everything they can observe from the Hill. The Shockoe Bottom Association supports it.

    It’s breezy, fly-by opinion pieces like this from folks who haven’t researched the issues that continue to hold Richmond back. Baseball on the boulevard is dead. The grand 50-year experiment was a failure, and baseball did nothing to redevelop the Boulevard area. Get over it.

  3. Jason Roop Avatar

    Your readers might also be interested in this reporting from Chris Dovi of Style Weekly:

    Look Away, Look Away

    Spirits in the Outfield

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Fan Guy,
    What, exactly, hasn’t been researched? I am just arguing for Williams’ idea of putting a slavery museum in the Bottom. I gather you like that idea but you seem to want the ballpark, too.
    You are entitled to your opinion but I have been going to the Diamond off and on for years and I also went to Parker Field at the same site years ago. I think the problem was the stadium, not the location. I fail to see how holding this view is “unresearched.”

    PS: Jason’s right, Style has done comprehensive stuff ont he issues.


  5. Peter, I’m referring mainly to the notion of building a museum in the Bottom w/o it being a part of some larger structure that can remedy the flood plain and green space issues. Williams seems to assume you can, but I’ve seen no such proposal. And you have endorsed his idea. I just think that we can do both, and the Shockoe Center plan will build it with minimal public funds (Style’s 15 million dollar figure is dubious at best), to be used solely to repair infrastructure that will help the entire Bottom, and by using 370 million of private money. How is a stand-alone slavery museum going to be paid for? How is it going to deal with flood plain/green space issues?

    Richmond’s history is very important, but it is not incompatible with development and growth.

    I’m just tired of the naysayers throwing up alternate development ideas as roadblocks to specific development proposals without ever actually doing their homework on those alternatives, and without ever actually following through on those alternatives. That’s what Williams is doing.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    “some larger structure that can remedy the flood plain and green space issues”

    This notion that the ballpark can serve as a flooding remedy and green space is very, very dubious. I keep seeing references to it but no actual engineering plans, no proof of concept.

    A slavery museum, with a green roof, could easily be a better fit for the Bottom.

  7. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Seems to me that if one of Virginia’s most influential leaders in the black community can’t convince anyone, then maybe it’s just not worth doing.

    If national personalities such as Cosby, Winfrey and a host of others are uninterested, then maybe it’s just not worth doing.

    If national black politicians are hiding and not returning phone calls, then maybe it’s just not worth doing.

    This museum was supposed to be a 200 million dollar NATIONAL project. If the project has now gotten to the point where only Richmond wants to build it, then maybe it’s just not worth doing.

    Our country is full of ill considered projects that end up being an endless drain on the taxpayer. We can start with the so called Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, unused soccer fields, and sports stadiums.

    The descendants of slaves need ahellavalot more than some stupid museum in a feel good, only whites are truly welcome neighborhood. Monuments to the past are politicians way of avoiding the future.

  8. 2:41pm, Scott Burger, why don’t you use your name when you post on here?

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Sometimes I don’t want to bother signing in, ‘FanGuy’

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    That’s a hoot, anonymous “FanGuy” has the guts to call out Scott but doesn’t have the nerve to name himself? Brilliant!

  11. FanGuy Avatar

    Hey genius, it’s not about knowing who the person is, it’s about knowing that all comments are coming from the same source. Although you don’t know my true identity, you at least know it’s me because I always sign “FanGuy”. I don’t know Scott….for all I know it’s a fake name he uses (I understand that it’s not). But I do recognize “Scott’s” posting style and things he says, which is why it was curious that he didn’t sign his name. Geez.

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Maybe people should be more concerned about worthiness of ideas vs. who’s who. Scott Burger is right when he says shows me proof of concept (of course, I am Scott Burger).

  13. Larry G Avatar

    Looks like Richmond has some competition:

    “Slavery museum fits at Fort Monroe”


    I’m sure they’d love to see Richmond folks disagree about whether Richmond should get it or not!


  14. Haystacks Avatar

    “Many families heading to Disneyworld could stop off and learn something.” Yeah, right. And if you’re really good, kids, then we can go to the Holocaust Museum!

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    Damn right about the Holocaust Museum. It’s really worth a visit and the story behind its creation is fascinating.
    Peter Galuszka

  16. kimberly Avatar

    I always enjoy a walk around the museum, all the historical value makes me feed my knowledge and i feel that i grow up like a person. I like to try what i want to prove. this is when i buy viagra for my husband. whenever i have a doubt, i mus to satisfy my curiosity.

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