of the Sacred Ground Historical
Establishing the historical highway marker in October 2004 to honor Gabriel's sacrifice in
the struggle for freedom, justice and equality was a gratifying experience on more than one level.
First, the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality successfully fulfilled a year-long
commitment of political and cultural significance to the community. Secondly, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources
Historical Highway Marker officially places the site of the "Burial Ground for Negroes" north of Broad Street
between 15th and 16th streets in the Shockoe Bottom historic district, making it the first state and city aknowledgement of
its existance. It was closed the year that the Barton
Heights Cemetery was completed,
approximately 1805. As such this burial ground may have been the oldest municipal cemetery for Africans/African
Americans in Richmond, and possibly in Virginia, which could
make it one of the oldest in colonial U.S.
Richmond's Burial Ground for Negroes currently lies 30-40 feet beneath what is now Standard
Parking lot, used daily by students and staff at VCU Medical
Center and owned by a private real estate development company in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Each year since 1999, the city of Richmond's Slave Trail Commission, re-launched by former
city councilman Sa'ad El-Amin and currently chaired by Delgate Delores McQuinn, and Elegba Folklore Society, led by Janine
Bell (founding director), present the Juneteenth Celebration and the Walk Along the Trail of Enslaved Africans.
The Walk begins at the Manchester docks of Ancarrow's Landing
and culminates in a ceremony in the parking lot over the Burial Ground, so that homage is paid to the ancestors who are buried
there, under earth, under asphalt, under an ongoing traffic of indifference.
The burial ground's existence had been suspected for many years, but was proven by the research
of local historian and author Elizabeth Cann Kambourian in 1992. Her original and seminal research, conducted at
the Library of Virginia, has been used by the Department of Parks and Recreation, A.C.O.R.N., the City of Richmond, the Slave
Trail Commission, the Defenders and other organizations to bolster projects that become a part of the bank
of cultural and community enrichment. Bringing Gabriel's rebellion into sharper view within the bounds of the city he
sought to free from the ideological hypocrisy of slavery in the "age of enlightenment" was a solid contribution to that
enrichment. The marker is permanently installed and those who read it will now find meaning in a place they would otherwise
not have found and known.
The Burial Ground needs to be reclaimed, uncovered and honored. The Burial Ground needs
to be mined for the wealth of information it could provide to enrich the history of Africans and their descendants in the
United States. Recognizing these
needs became the basis for our next step: to form the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation committee.
This committee's membership is that of people whose prime motivation is the strengthening
of our people and their identity in this culture that would banish or absorb them into oblivion if at all possible.
We seek to add to the community's understanding of its origins by reclaiming this burial ground, bringing the memory of our
ancestors into view and acknowledging the whole history of the existence, humanity and contributions of Africans
and their descendants to this place and to our people now.
We will also further this effort by raising up the stories of others in our history whose
lives have added critical layers to the evolution of the Richmond
in which we now live. It is part of our task to remember people like the Lovings of Caroline County, union espionage artists
Mary Bowser and Elizabeth Van Lews, John Mitchell Jr., the "Fighting Editor" of the Richmond Planet newspaper, and the
countless unnamed people who fought back against slavery and oppression in countless unnamed ways in hopes of living in a
more wholesome and promising society.
Why does it matter now?
It matters, because without a whole history, understanding is fractured and combative, making
trust impossible. And there is certainly no unity, no reconciliation, and no future without trust.