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Posted at 6:29 PM ET, 12/22/2010

Va. to preserve site of slave burials in Richmond

By Anita Kumar
Anita Kumar

Virginia will preserve a Richmond burial ground that holds the graves of slaves and free blacks from the 18th and 19th centuries in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War next year.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) announced Wednesday afternoon that he is proposing that the state purchase a 2.5-acre parcel owned by Virginia Commonwealth University, now used as a parking lot, and donate it to the city of Richmond.

The city will eventually remove the asphalt and install historical markers to create a walking museum in the area of Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, where slaves were brought to the city, housed in what is known as Lumpkin's Jail and buried.

"As Virginia and Richmond seek next year to preserve history.... to promote racial reconciliation in our community, this transaction that will now allow Lumpkin's Jail and this old cemetery to be made open to public view could be part of what we commemorate next year as we tell people young and old about Richmond's role and learn from what happened 150 years ago,'' McDonnell said.

Several activists attended an afternoon news conference with McDonnell and Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones to ask that the parking lot be closed immediately.

"Get the cars of the parking lot -- immediately,'' said Aime Tudor,'' a VCU senior. "Y'all have the ability and the power to do and yet you are trying to have a political conservation talking about money and funding restraints. That's not our responsibility. Get the cars off because it's wrong."

The state will spend $3.3 million, the same amount VCU paid in 2008 when it purchased the land.

McDonnell included the money in his amendments to the two-year budget, which he introduced Friday.

In September, McDonnell once again expressed regret for an April 2010 proclamation that omitted a reference to slavery's role in the Civil War and said he would declare April 2011 "Civil War in Virginia" month, rather than "Confederate History Month."

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.

"Today we take a very important step in reclaiming the history of what I believe and what some historians believe is the epicenter of the slave trade in America,'' Jones said.

By Anita Kumar  | December 22, 2010; 6:29 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar, Robert F. McDonnell  
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