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Posted at 2:29 PM ET, 12/22/2010

McDonnell to propose site of slave burials be donated to Richmond

By Anita Kumar
Anita Kumar

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is expected to announce at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that the state will give the city of Richmond land that holds the graves of slaves and free blacks from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Virginia Commonwealth University bought the land for a parking lot in 2008 but agreed to use some for a public memorial. But an anthropologist at the College of William & Mary, along with many residents, argue that the graves extend beyond the strip that the university donated.

The Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project and the Defenders called McDonnell's decision a victory and again asked that the parking lot be closed.

"We call on Gov. McDonnell to make a firm commitment that any memorialization of this site will be carried out in full consultation and cooperation with the black community as a whole,'' the group said in a statement.

The 250-year-old cemetery, used until about 1816, faded from public memory as the city grew up around it. But several years ago, a local historian stumbled on records of its existence.

The city gallows once stood nearby, where a slave named Gabriel was executed after a failed 1800 rebellion, and some historians believe he could be buried there. In 2007, then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) symbolically pardoned Gabriel and said his "quest for freedom was part of a great American legacy."

In recent years, the city has made efforts to commemorate the trials and contributions of slaves. The Richmond Slave Trail Commission has created a walking tour from the James River port where slaves arrived, to a slave jail that is being excavated. The trail also includes a slavery reconciliation statue that was unveiled last year.

By Anita Kumar  | December 22, 2010; 2:29 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar, Robert F. McDonnell  
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