Richmond wants this billboard removed from alongside I-64. The owners won't budge.

Poster image - 2024-02-23T183932.408.jpg
Posted at 6:44 PM, Feb 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-23 18:44:15-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Two signs sit atop Shockoe Hill in Richmond's East End - one memorializing an estimated 22,000 enslaved and freed African Americans buried on the grounds in the 19th century and another that displays ads to cars driving by on Interstate 64.

The Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground was one of the largest cemeteries for free and enslaved African Americans during its era from 1816 to 1879.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said the city began looking at ways to remove the large billboards from the grounds last spring but ran into roadblocks with the company that owns it.

A few years ago, Richmond took over ownership of the property — where a gas station used to sit near the intersection of N 5th Street and Hospital Street.

However, Stoney said Lamar Advertising owns a permanent easement for the billboard on that land, which was in place prior to the city taking ownership.

Stoney said when the city approached Lamar about removing the billboard, the company asked for six new sites in Richmond for a total of 12 billboards in exchange for removing the one on Shockoe Hill.

“It is still sacred ground," Stoney said at a press event Friday afternoon after the city rejected Lamar's request. "We think that’s ridiculous. That is disgusting, and we’re here today to call on Lamar Advertising to do the right thing.”

Both the city and the company confirmed a meeting happened in November to discuss the site and the billboard. The Mayor's Office said Lamar sent their official request for six new sites in December.

An email sent Friday to company officials by Richmond Planning and Development Director Kevin Vonck called Lamar's request for additional sites "excessive" and difficult to achieve based on zoning and easement concerns.

“Essentially using this sacred ground as a bargaining chip for their bottom line, that is unacceptable and disgusting," Stoney said.

In a statement sent to CBS 6 Friday, a spokesperson for Lamar said the company prides itself on being a great community partner in Richmond and expressed a willingness to work with the city.

"At that [November] meeting, Lamar replied that we would work toward finding an amicable solution with the city, and the city leaders expressed gratitude at Lamar's willingness to help them solve this issue," the statement said. "The city did not respond to Lamar's proposed resolution until noon today. It is Lamar's intent to continue to work in good faith with the interested parties to come to a suitable resolution.”

Based on publicly posted pricing information, if both of the highly visible billboards on Shockoe Hill are leased year-round, the billboards would generate more than $189,000 in annual revenue for Lamar.

The company's total market value around over $11 billion, according to reports.

The Shockoe Hill plot was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register in the past several years, but for decades, Black Virginians and Americans who can trace their ancestry to someone buried there watched on as roadways, gas stations, and billboards were constructed on top internment sites.

“Their ancestors were buried here, and people ignored that. It’s only recently that the city and partners —people like Lenora McQueen and others — said this should be a sight of consciousness, and we believe that," Stoney said.

Stoney said the city is in the process of determining how best to memorialize the dead buried there without disturbing their resting place, but in the meantime, Richmond commissioned a mural painted on the old gas station building that still sits on Shockoe Hill.

"The city is not making money on this site. Someone is generating profit on this site, on the enslaved. That is our problem," Stoney said, adding the city attorney will look into available options depending on how the company responds.

You can learn more about the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground via theVirginia Department of Historic Resourcesand the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.



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