Gabriel, Slavery, Richmond’s History, Sacred Ground


Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project

  1. Jan. 5, 2010: Suit filed against the Commonwealth of Virginia, naming Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for failing to preserve and protect state owned site of historic significance, Richmond’s African Burial Ground and calling for the state to pay for a test excavation to assist in determining the boundaries of the burial ground. This Writ of Mandamus was filed by Sa’ad El-Amin, director of the Society for the Preservation of Richmond’s African American History and Antiquities and includes the deposition of Dr. Michael Blakey, director of the Institute for Historical Biology, College of William and Mary, as expert witness. This suit was publicly supported by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, SGHRP and the State Conference NAACP. DISMISSED Oct. 13, 2010
  2. Participation in the Future of Richmond’s Past planning committee to conduct Community Conversations to provide the public the opportunity to input their stories and interests into the programming of our regional cultural institutions as they plan for the upcoming Sesquicentennial of the Civil War and Emancipation.
  3. Participation in the Lincoln Memorial Subcommittee of the Martin L. King, Jr. Commemoration Comimission of the commonwealth of Virginia, serving on the sub-subcommittee, Slave Burial Grounds/African American Cemeteries project – identification and cataloguing of all such sites and the interred throughout the state. Details to follow.
  4. Planning a Richmond Community Delegation visit to the New York African Burial Ground newly opened interpretive center for November 2010. Details to follow.
  5. Sep. 8: Ana Edwards (Sacred Ground), Shawn Utsey (Dept. Af. Am. Studies), King Salim Khalfani (State NAACP), Phil Wilayto (Va Defender) meeting with VCU president Dr. Michael Rao and Wayne Turnage (chief of staff), John Bennett (finance), David Ross (attorney), Mark Rubin (government liaison/lobbyist) – Land swap under negotiation with Mayor Jones (though no timeline indicated), stated agreement with sacredness and significance of the site, and while VCU’s limited resources will not be directed there, he is interested in community collaborations.
  6. Sep. 28: El-Amin files injunction against VCU and Dr. Michael Rao to force end to parking of all cars from the site of Richmond’s African Burial Ground.
  7. Oct. 10: 8th annual commemoration of Gabriel’s Rebellion and Richmond’s African Burial Ground held as a Town Hall Meeting with presentations by Shawn Utsey, Janine Bell, Sa’ad El-Amin, King Salim Khalfani, moderated by Ana Edwards, with a full hour for audience discussion.
  8. Oct. 13: Final ruling on Jan. 5 lawsuit against Kathleen Kilpatrick and Dept. of Historic Resources: DISMISSED, stating Kilpatrick had fulfilled her discretionary duties regarding the site by producing the July 2008 report, flawed or not.
  9. Oct. 24: 1st organizing meeting following Oct. 10 town hall meeting. 13 people attended. General strategy discussion led to initiatives launched: mass e-mail petition; weekly leafleting on sidewalk leading to and from the Burial Ground; public education and recruiting for upcoming demonstrations and possible civil disobedience actions.
  10. Nov. 21: 2nd organizing meeting following Oct. 10 town hall meeting. 19 people attended. Reports on initiatives launched: 250-300 letters/petitions to Rao/Jones/McDonnell; 1500-1900 leaflets distributed; WTVR meets with King Salim Khalfani of State NAACP and Sa’ad El-Amin, agrees to air Meet Me In The Bottom as counter to Holmberg’s commentary; Rao/VCU response to El-Amin’s lawsuit received/Sa’ad seeking preliminary injunction by Xmas; 30 VCU Black students organize/implement “Die-In” on campus, WTVR News airs at 5,6 and 11pm, 500 fliers distributed (Burial Ground on 1 side, Oscar Grant injustice information on the other); City’s Shockoe Bottom Economic Revitalization Public meeting event held/Burial Ground, Lumpkins Jail, Trail of Enslaved Africans included as sites to preserve/National Slavery Museum factored in. Next issue of Virginia Defender to be published Dec. 9; distribution begins that weekend.Local Protestors Carrying Bowfishing bows
  11. Dec. 21: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell calls a press conference with Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, Delegate Delores McQuinn and a representative from Virginia Commonwealth University to announce that the state of Virginia was putting forth a budget amendment for $3.1 million to compensate VCU for the transfer of the Burial Ground site property at 1541 E. Broad Street from VCU to the city of Richmond; this legislation is to be authored by Del. McQuinn. Gov. McDonnell further stipulated that the property fall under the management of the City of Richmond through the city’s Slave Trail Commission and that within 5 years substantive progress must be made to memorialize the site, or the property would revert to state ownership.
Burn Baby Burn Productions website has been updated to include information about ordering a copy of this film, recent awards and a schedule of screenings on Community Idea Stations, our local PBS station, and throughout the community.

Meet Me in the Bottom: The Struggle to Reclaim Richmond’s African Burial Ground is an award-winning documentary film directed by Shawn Utsey, with cinematography and editing Jennida Chase, Shanika Smiley and Calvin Jamison Jr. This film is an excellent introduction to the significance of oldest municipal cemetary in Richmond, Virginia, the Black community’s struggles to reclaim the RIGHT TO KNOW their history by having the right to determine how it is revealed, examined and commemorated for the edification of generations to come.
Coming in 2011: Chris, a documentary about one Richmond man’s role in the industry of cemetery body-snatching for medical education and the medical schools that couldn’t teach without it.


Institute for Historical Biology (IHB) Review of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) Validation and Assessment Report on the Burial Ground for Negroes, Richmond, Virginia by C. M. Stephenson, 25 June 2008. Prepared by Michael L. Blakey, Ph.D, Director, Institute for Historical Biology, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, 20 September 2008

About the Institute for Historical Biology:

Download the IHB report

Burial Ground for Negroes, Richmond, Virginia: Validation and Assessment – Prepared by C. M. Stevenson, Ph.D., for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Ricmond, Virginia, 25 June 2008

About the Virginia Department of Historic Resources:

Download the DHR report

The Burial Ground: an early African-American site in Richmond, Notes on its history and location © Jeffrey Ruggles, Dec. 2009

About the Virginia Historical Society:

Download Ruggles’ report

Buried in the unremissive ground: reading Richmond’s subterranean signs by Katherine Walker a University College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA. Online publication date: 17 December 2009

Download Buried in Unremissive Ground

Petition to Reclaim our Richmond’s Oldest Municipal Burial Site for Free and Enslaved Black People. Included with the petition is a form to complete so you can Tell Us Your Vision for memorialing the Burial Ground and the ancestors buried there as well as for Shocke Bottom. Bring it with you to the next meeting or mail it to us at Sacred Ground Project/Defenders, PO Box 23202, Richmond VA 23223.

Download petition!

4/14: 2010 Community Defenders of the Year 

The Defenders held our Annual Fighting Fund & Community Awards Dinner on Saturday, April 24, 2010, with keynote speaker Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan African News Wire.

This year the following people were recipients of the Community Defenders of the Year awards, which recognize members of the community who have distinguished themselves by their work in advancing the ideals of Freedom, Justice and Equality. They were honored for their work in the ongoing struggle to reclaim Richmond’s African Burial Ground:

Afrikana – Student organization of the VCU Department of African American Studies

Janine Bell – Founding Director, Elegba Folklore Society

Dr. Michael Blakey – Director, Institute for Historical Biology, College of William & Mary

Sa’ad El-Amin – former Richmond City Council member and former chair of the city’s Slave Trail Commission

Sister Maat Free – Spiritual Advocate for the Burial Ground

King Salim Khalfani – Executive Director, Virginia State Conference NAACP

Shanna Merola & Kenneth YatesRichmond activists who exposed the plans by Virginia Commonwealth University to repave the Burial Ground

Dr. Shawn Utsey – Director of the documentary film “Meet in in the Bottom: The struggle to reclaim Richmond’s African Burial Ground”

News coverage of August 2009 protest of repaving of VCU parking lot:
“The 300-year struggle for the African Burial Ground, from a strictly scientific standpoint, constitutes a continuing assertion of human identity against those who would belittle or belie that status for reasons of economic expediency.”Dr. Michael L. Blakey, from The New York African Burial Ground Project: An Examination of Enslaved Lives, a Construction of Ancestral Ties, presented August 19, 1997 to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Sub-Committee on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
What is Shockoe Bottom now? It is a singular site of far-reaching historical importance for the Black Community and for all who would come to Richmond to experience history, to absorb it, to understand it. And because of where they will be able to place their feet, and what they will see from this vantage point, they will remember and they will share it. And others will come.

Mayor Dwight Jones – (804) 646-7970 –

Delegate Delores L. McQuinn – (804) 698-1070 –