Richmond is about to donate $ 300,000 in yet another attempt to create a national slavery museum.
Mayor Levar M. Stoney, with the support of a majority of the city council, offered to provide the necessary funds to establish a foundation to support the development of the museum. The foundation’s leadership would likely include former members of the city’s now defunct Slave Trail Commission, including Richmond delegate Delores L. McQuinn and the Revs. Benjamin P. Campbell and Sylvester T. Turner.
The mayor, who expects city council to approve the funding at its next meeting on Monday, Jan. 10, described the $ 300,000 as “seed money” to get the foundation back on its feet with the aim of create the museum near the site of infamous Lumpkin’s Prison, next to Main Street station in Shockoe Bottom.
In particular, the foundation would be responsible for raising the 200 to 220 million dollars planned necessary to complete and fill the museum.
The city and state have already set aside around $ 40 million to support development of projects involving the history of slavery, but the rest is expected to come from private sources, city officials said.
The proposal is a second attempt to create a Virginia center for education on slavery and enslaved people. Former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder failed to establish a $ 100 million slavery museum in Fredericksburg. This effort ended in 2011.
Despite claims that Richmond would be the first museum of its kind, at least six existing museums have significant exhibits focusing on slavery. The largest is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Others are the Old Slave Mart in Charleston, SC, and the Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery in Philadelphia.
Others include the Center for Reconciliation in Providence, RI, the Whitney Plantation Museum in Edgard, La., And the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, as well as the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.
Some of the strongest supporters of the development of a memorial park for the more than 300,000 enslaved people who were bought and sold in the Richmond slave markets are not enthusiastic about the museum.
Phil Wilayto and Ana Edwards, who for more than 17 years led the charge of preserving and protecting the history of Shockoe Bottom as the country’s second largest slave market, fear that the focus on an extremely expensive museum did not collect all the money to develop a 9-acre memorial to the slaves they pushed for.
Mr Wilayto believes that the renovated, but now largely unused, train shed at the Main Street station could more easily and cheaply become the home of the museum and leave resources for the development of the memorial campus.
City Hall appears to be struggling to move forward to create the Slave African Heritage Campus, which the mayor in 2020 said was being stepped up. In September 2020, city council approved the mayor’s plan to provide $ 1.7 million to begin development of this project, which is to include the museum and areas of Lumpkin Prison west of the railroad tracks. .
The campus is also to include the African Burial Ground north of Broad Street which was the country’s first municipal cemetery for free and enslaved people, and several blocks east of the railroad tracks between Broad, 17th and 17th Streets. Franklin which nestle the historic, but largely vacant Farmers’ Market.
So far, none of the $ 1.7 million has been spent, according to Sharon Ebert, the city’s deputy executive director for economic and community development. The city also did not acquire the private property included in a city-operated parking lot located between the train tracks on Broad and 17th Streets, a key part of the expanded campus, Ms Ebert said in an email response. to a free press request.
The city has also “not contacted or made any advance on the purchase” of the old Loving’s Produce distribution building, she said, although it has been listed as a potential site for new parking for the Loving’s Produce. heritage campus and neighboring businesses.
According to Ms. Ebert, the city’s next step in creating the campus would be to spend up to $ 2.7 million to pay a company to design the heritage campus. A request for proposals is due out in the coming months to kick off the process, she said.
Funding would come from the $ 1.7 million, plus an additional $ 1 million that city council is also expected to approve at its next meeting.
The decision appears to have been made without any consultation with Mr. Wilayto, Ms. Edwards or any other advocate or organization. They created the vision for the campus and persisted for over a decade to gain the support of the mayor and council.
“We are committed to creating a Shockoe Heritage Campus,” said Mayor Stoney, dismissing the concerns. This includes the entire campus as well as the museum, he said.
“A heritage and interpretive center or museum will give us the opportunity to create a space that will serve as a site of conscious remembrance, reflection, education and atonement,” he said.