Shockoe Alliance aims to share forgotten history of city’s slave trade

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom used to be one of the busiest slave-trading centers on the East Coast. To preserve the area’s history, Mayor Levar M. Stoney created the Shockoe Alliance. 

The Shockoe Alliance, a group made up of city staff, community members and preservation experts, held its first meeting on Monday. 

The goal of the Shockoe Alliance is to share the forgotten history in Shockoe Bottom. 

The Richmond Reconciliation Statue is one of several sites along the city’s slave trail. Mayor Stoney, who announced the creation of the group at the beginning of April, says more stories need to be told.  

“We like to think of it as the trail of enslaved Africans,” said Janine Bell, the founding president of the Elegra Folklore Society and vice chair of the Slave Trail Commission. 

The Richmond Slave Trail starts at the Manchester Dock, on the south side of the James River, where enslaved Africans were shipped into Richmond to be sold.  

“It’s not a pretty story, in fact, it’s a pretty horrific story,” said Bell. “We want to restore, even in the condition of enslavement, their dignity.”

Mayor Stoney, with the help of the Shockoe Alliance, has plans to memorialize the traumatic experiences of enslaved Africans. 

“I think it’s excellent and long overdue,” said Bell. 

While the plan is still in the idea stage, Bell has some thoughts on what she would like to see. She told 8News she would like to see more lighting, signs to help people navigate the trail and plaques with names so people understand what happened. 

“Revealing this information in a place where people can just be in it by just going down there, then we can take steps towards being better,” Bell told 8News. 

Mayor Stoney says the Shockoe Alliance will work closely with the newly formed history and culture commission to find the best ways to share truthful stories from the past. 

Stoney’s office shared more details on the plan to bring the community together and his views on the Alliance’s mission: 

Our mission is to collaboratively engage in how we can create a Shockoe that:

  • Tells an accurate and inclusive narrative of Shockoe and memorializes the traumatic experiences of enslaved Africans and Native Americans while honoring their struggles toward liberation
  • Creates equitable opportunities for our community while preserving the historic significance of the area
  • Has national and global appeal because Richmond has a national and global story to tell. Richmond can become a global destination for learning about the horrid system of slavery, as well as its remnants. We are standing in what used to be the country’s second largest market for the buying and selling of enslaved Africans.
  • As you know Shockoe is part of a larger vision of equitable transformation for the area. As the larger vision involves an inclusive and holistic planning and development process that involves how we foresee the future of the larger area in terms of access to affordable housing, green spaces, walking and bike trails, economic development, etc.

In order to make this happen, I’ve created the Shockoe Alliance, comprised of members of our City team and external stakeholders, to help advance this goal.

  • Collective action is important, as no entity can do it alone. That’s why we have at the table persons from Richmond 300 and the Master Planning Process, our Office of Economic Development, Rose Fellows, the Slave Trail Commission, Sacred Ground Historical and Reclamation Project, Preservation Virginia, the Shockoe Neighborhood Association, the Shockoe Business Association and others who will help ensure we are engaging  community and all of the necessary stakeholders and voices to ensure we get this process right.
  • The Shockoe Alliance will work closely with the newly formed History and Culture Commission to engage the community on how we move forward with justly commemorating our past, telling a true, inclusive narrative and building upon the legacy of our ancestors.

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