Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Citizens Outraged over Slave Burial Marker Delay

Listen to the audio version here

In an act that outraged citizens, Mayor Dwight Jones and Governor Bob McDonnell postponed the planned unveiling of 17 historical markers along Richmond's Slave trail to attend the VCU Final Four game in Houston, Texas this past weekend.

About 75 people gathered to show support for the reclamation of the burial ground, located below a VCU-MCV parking lot at 16th and east broad streets. The struggle to reclaim the burial ground and remove the parking lot from the land, about 10 years in the making, has been a rallying point for black-rights groups in the city.

Lead by Ana Edwards, chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation project, the event was filled with anger at the city. Citizens were allowed to speak freely at the event.

"City officials including out cowardice black mayor, had to run off to Huston to honor the very organization that disrespected us, our ancestral burial grounds in the first place." said Sister Yafa, a long-time Virginia resident. She, along with other community organizers felt this delay was just another insult in a long series.

"There's no fanfare for by or for black people, decedents of those soldiers or prisoners, nor is there any fanfare for our ancestors held prisoners here under this parking lot."

Yafa's anger was shared by much of those in attendance. Maurice Robinson, a student at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, has been a regular figure at city council meetings to speak out in support of reclaiming the land.

"They trying to keep our history hidden by keeping this cement right here hidden." Robinson said.

Born and raised in Richmond, Robinson developed "Slang solution, liberation and New Guidance," an activist group to support black youth, a number of which were in attendance.

April 3rd marked the 146th anniversary of Union troops liberating Richmond from Confederate control. Also known as Richmond Emancipation or Liberation day, the unveiling was scheduled to coincide with the historic event.

"It's a reassertion of the importance of emancipation or liberation day from the confederacy, it was a moment in which to beautifully demonstrate how far we've come in knowledge of Richmond's black history." Edwards said.

But when Edwards learned of the postponement, through an e-mail sent by the city about five days before the scheduled event, she felt burned. The city's e-mail was vague according to Edwards, and did not specify the reason for the delay. It wasn't until a Richmond Times Dispatch article came out last Thursday that the reason for the delay was brought to light.
"Their justification is that it will get more publicity because it won’t compete with the final four. There is something wrong with that." Edwards said.

The unveiling has been rescheduled for this Saturday, April 10th at 3 p.m. Edwards and her group have said they will attend, but instead of participating as originally intended, they will be standing in the back of the crowd.

The unveiling of the markers was the first in several steps by the city and state to reclaim the burial ground. Governor McDonnell proposed an amendment to the budget this past General Assembly session to give $3.3 Million from the state to VCU for the transfer of the land to the city. Protecting and preserving the site will be the task of the city and the Richmond Slave Trail Commission, though cars still park atop the slaves remains as this story airs.

Robinson, toward the end of his speech, stressed his, as well as the rest of the groups, steadfast will to see the burial ground reclaimed.

"This will be solved. We're gonna continue fighting this issue until its solved - together, stand together."

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