RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Dozens of people gathered at the Shockoe Bottom African burial ground Sunday evening to mark the 221st anniversary of the execution of the great slave rebellion leader Gabriel Prosser.
Gabriel planned a large rebellion in Richmond in 1800, but was hanged after information regarding the revolt was leaked.
Around that time, The Virginia Defender newspaper editor Phil Wilayto said Richmond increasingly became the center of the slave trade that supplied human beings to locations in the deep south like Charleston, Savannah, Vicksburg and New Orleans.
Around 80 people were at the burial grounds Sunday night, highlighting the need for there to be a memorial on the land. The goal being that there are places to get educated on what actually happened in that area, including the hanging of Gabriel and 25 of his followers.
“It is important that we know from which we’ve come,” said Pamela Bingham, one of the speakers at Sunday’s event.
Bingham is a descendant of Gabriel and believes it’s unfair that some of her friends cannot trace their lineage beyond their grandparents.
Wilayto said the area was a parking lot owned by Virginia Commonwealth University 11 years ago. He said his organization educated the community on the importance of the property, so VCU gave the land up.
He went on to say the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality had a two year struggle trying to stop former Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones and Venture Richmond from putting a baseball stadium on the other side of the tracks from the burial grounds.
“We need justice, not only for us here, but our elders, our ancestors,” said Christopher Rasheed Green, representative for the East Marshall Street Well Project Family Representative Council.
The Virginia Defenders continue to work to memorialize the African burial grounds in Shockoe Bottom. Among them are: the Shockoe Bottom African Burial Ground, the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground, East End, Evergreen cemeteries and others.
Lenora McQueen’s ancestor, Kitty Cary, was buried in the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground at 5th and Hospital Streets.
“Her last words were spoken to her children in an attempt to comfort them as she herself lay dying,” said the speaker, reading from a letter, which McQueen wrote to city council and the residents of Richmond asking for support for an ordinance that was to lead to the re-purchase of a portion of the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground at 1305 N. 5th Street.
The defenders have worked to reclaim the property, and like descendants of those buried on the grounds, they want to assure no more of the sacred spaces are paved over or forgotten.
“They are still someone’s someone. They deserve to be honored. They deserve to have their story told and no longer hidden,” said the speaker, reading the statement.
In July 2020, 8News reported that Mayor Levar Stoney recommended Richmond invest $25 to $50 million over the next five years to create a memorial campus in Shockoe Bottom that will include a slavery history museum.
Wilayto said the plan has garnered support from the city, and the Shockoe Alliance is designing the campus that will cover 10 blocks. He said they are also working to make sure there is enough funding to run the campus, but that the Black community has to have a place at the table to negotiate what happens to the land.
He said the campus would be a ‘stunning addition to the city that will help define Richmond to the world’ and whatever financial benefits come out of it must primarily go to the Black community.