Joint Statement by the Richmond Slave Trail Commission and Virginia Commonwealth University

State, City and VCU leaders met Thursday at the state historic preservation office to discuss the future of a property recently purchased by the university. The property, long used as a parking lot, may be the site of an early African American burial ground.  The meeting was organized by Director of the Department of Historic Resources Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, and attended by General Assembly Member Dwight C. Jones, Richmond City Council President William J. Pantele, Council Vice President and Slave Trail Commission Chairman Delores L. McQuinn, Virginia Commonwealth University Vice President for Government Relations and Health Policy Don Gehring, VCU Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration John M. Bennett, and VCU Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Brian J. Ohlinger. 

The location and condition of the burial ground, its relationship to the parking lot in question, and treatment considerations are complicated by many factors. These include changing uses of the land over time, the construction of I-95, the diversion of Shockoe Creek, previous levels of disturbance in the area, and even the placement of upwards of 30 feet of fill in some places. The exact location of the burial ground is not a settled matter at this time.

Acknowledging the power of the story of the African American experience in the City of Richmond, the parties agreed that VCU would suspend plans to repave the lot pending a careful examination of the historical evidence. The parking lot property is within a larger area that included the infamous Lumpkin's Jail as well as an early slave and free African American burial ground.  The area is therefore central to preserving and telling that story.  

The Department of Historic Resources will work closely with the Slave Commission and the research community to explore the most likely location of the early burial ground and its relationship to the VCU property in question.  These findings will inform discussions about sensitive use of the site and steps to honor and share the history of the area with the public. 

Speaking on behalf of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission, Chairman McQuinn said, "The meeting was enormously productive and led to significant progress that will help us identify the location of the burial ground and ultimately decide how to memorialize a sacred place."