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Why Richmond leaders think momentum is building for Shockoe slavery museum

Heritage Campus in Shockoe Bottom to recognize horrors, history of slave trade
Posted at 3:56 PM, Aug 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-03 17:46:11-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- After working on the Richmond Slave Trail project for two decades, Delegate Delores McQuinn describes her current view toward Shockoe Bottom as cautious excitement.

A Heritage Campus to memorialize and capture the horrors and history of what was once the largest slave trade market in the United State is the cornerstone project of the plan to revitalize Richmond’s oldest neighborhood.

“All of these things have been buried for years,” McQuinn said. “Just as this story is finally being told across the country, for Richmond to be the capital of the Confederacy and not tell all of the stories, bring forward the entire truth so that there can be reconciliation. I just think it’s going to be amazing.”

The Shockoe Small Area Plan was released by city planners in July and lays out a long-term vision for making Shockoe a destination for both Richmond residents and tourists.

The Heritage Campus, which is slated to incorporate the Lumpkin’s Jail and African Burial Ground historic sites, is the centerpiece of the project which aims to better connect the various portions of Shockoe from Main Street Station down the Virginia Capital Trail.

A public comment period is currently underway and public meetings on the project are set for this week. You can read the full plan here.

McQuinn said she constantly hears from Black families, some who live in Virginia and others from out of state, who can connect their family history directly to Richmond and want to learn more. The Heritage Center, like other museums telling the full picture of slavery in America, would bring visitors from across the country to Shockoe, McQuinn said.

“A line is connected to Richmond. You go anywhere and people say, ‘my family came out of Richmond or Virginia,’” she said. “I think it will cause an explosion down in this area as far as tourism and visitation.”

The plan also calls for the development of several surface parking lots and other unused spaces that dot the neighborhood. Those entering the Shockoe area from the north end would see new developments mixed between various parks and green space. The small area plan calls for interconnected, multi-modal throughways and even a linear park under Interstate 95.

Kevin Vonck, the acting director of Richmond’s Planning Department, said the plan lays out a way of bringing more green space to an area where large portions are currently zoned for manufacturing, an outdated designation.

“This is going to be a growth node for the city,” Vonck said. “There’s certain areas of the city that get a lot hotter in the summer because they’re seas of asphalt and there’s not a lot of vegetation. So strategically looking at how we can bring green back to this neighborhood.”

In recent city history, plans to build a Heritage Campus or Slavery Museum in Shockoe have stalled out. This plan does not specifically address how the project and developments would be funded. City planners still want to hear feedback during the next few weeks on the plan.

“I think it’s critical to acknowledge what happened in the past and recognizing it in a very important way and telling those stories about what Richmond is. But also, for how we can be in the future,” Vonck said.

McQuinn feels momentum is heading in the right direction and said she hopes Richmond does not miss the moment to make the project come to fruition.

“When you look at the scheme of things across this country, the racial upheaval, people demanding that we be at the table, I think that this is the right time, this is the right place, and the right people are involved,” she said. “I think it will be a great honor to those who have passed, as I always say, and a legacy that we will leave for future generations. They’ll thank us for it.”

The first public meeting is at Main Street station on Tuesday night from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Main Street Station. A virtual meeting is set for Wednesday afternoon from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Learn more about the public input process here.

Vonck said following the public comment period, city staff plan on adjusting the plan according to recommendations they receive. The hope is to get the proposal to the city council later this year, Vonck said.