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Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project

Timeline of Activities: Burial Ground, Gabriel's Rebellion, Shockoe Bottom

Burial Ground

From 1992 to the present many individuals and organizations have worked to ensure that the story of Gabriel's Rebellion and the existance of what may be Richmond's oldest municipal burial ground for African-Americans and the poor is remembered, understood and honored. What follows is not a definitive record, but an attempt to give an idea of the kinds of efforts that have gone into this reclamation process, directly and indirectly. If you have more information to add to this timeline please send it by e-mail.

1992: Elizabeth Cann Kambourian, local author and Richmond historian, does the definitive research to confirm the existence and location of the "Burial Ground for Negroes" north of the 1500 block of E. Broad Street in Shockoe Bottom historic district.

1996: Slave Trail Commission, originally founded by former Mayor Walter Kenney, was re-established by Sa'ad El-Amin, then 6th District Councilman, as chair. Members of Hope in the Cities have standing seats on the commission, as well as community representatives from the 9 districts.

1999: Oct. 12, Richmond City Council unanimously passes resolution to clear Gabriel's name as a criminal and declare him to be a "patriot" and a "freedom fighter." Patroned initially by Sa'ad El-Amin and then at vote by Delores McQuinn and Mayor McCullom, the idea was raised by Gabriel's great, great, great grandson, Dr. Haskell Bingham.

2001: The first annual Torch-Lit Night Walk of the Slave Trail, in conjunction with the Juneteenth Celebration, was co-sponsored by the city of Richmond’s Slave Trail Commission and the ­Elegba Folklore Society

2002: The night walk was extended to include the site of the Burial Ground. Elizabeth Cann Kambourian presents her research laying out the maps that prove the existance and general location of the "Burial Ground for Negroes" during Juneteenth program. 

2004: October 10th dedication of the historical highway marker to honor the life of rebellion leader Gabriel and his fellow martyrs to the cause of freedom from bondage, and the affirmation of the location fo the Burial Ground. The dedication ceremony was preceded by a symposium and panel discussion that featured Elvatrice Parker Belsches (author/historian), Elizabeth Kambourian (author/historian), Dr. Haskell Bingham (descendant), Dr. Michael Blakey (director of research for NY African Burial Ground), Douglas Egerton (author of Gabriel's Rebellion and the Slave Insurrections of 1800 and 1802). In December the Defenders formed the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project to focus on reclamation of the burial ground site.

2005: Newly formed Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project's first efforts include struggle to prevent the attempt by the Braves baseball team owner and developer, Global Development, to construct a sports/entertainment complex with luxury retail/condominium properties in the heart of Shockoe Bottom, a project that would have destroyed existing local businesses and wiped out the historic character, remains and potential for development as an intact magnet for heritage tourism.
2006: Development plan withdrawn. Publicized VCU strategic plan to re-pave the parking lot and called for meetings with President Trani to discuss alternate strategies. 
2007: State NAACP successfully petitions Governor Timothy L. Kaine to unofficially pardon Gabriel's conviction and declare him a freedom fighter. October 10 is 5th anniversary of annual commemorations to honor Gabriel and the ancestors buried in Shockoe Bottom. Press conference held on August 30, day of planned rebellion, re-affirming it a day of honor in the fight for freedom.
2008: VCU purchases the parking lot property in February. In June, improvement efforts are thwarted by local activists which triggered commitments by Slave Trail Commission, city and state officials and Department of Historic Resources to work with VCU to secure the site from further harm. DHR commissions an assessment of existing research to determine site parameters and accepts its conclusions and on this basis VCU agrees to set aside a 50' x 110' area of the parking lot parallel to Interstate 95 for use as a memorial site. The Institute for Historical Biology issues a review of the DHR report challenging the faulty premise upon which it rested its conclusions and recommends excavation as the customary next-step for investigation to determine the burial sites. Mayor's office announces RFP for Shockoe Bottom and Boulevard districts redevelopment plan awarded to Highwoods Development. Community meetings begin. Black August Planning Committee and Happily Natural Day coordinators include tours of Trail of Enslaved Africans and Gabriels' Rebellion for 2nd year. 15 participants are from DC, Maryland and Virginia.

2009: Highwoods Development plan pulled by developer when financing and site use conflicts cannot be resolved. Slave Trail Commission hires BAM Architects to draft Shockoe Bottom Heritage Plan to encompass the entire Slave Trail, slave trading district, Seaboard building, Lumpkin's Jail excavation site and 5500 sq. ft. set-aside for the Burial Ground, a museum/institute for slavery studies, genealogy center, public parkways and gardens, memorial site, and elaborate signage throughout. VCU's new president, Dr. Michael Rao, takes seat in July. Black August Planning Committee and Happily Natural Day coordinators include tours of Trail of Enslaved Africans and Gabriel's Rebellion for 3rd consecutive year. 54 participants are from Georgia, DC, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. Poet and interior designer win InLight International Exhibition Best in Show for light-art installation titled For Gabriel in downtown Richmond. 7th annual commemoration on Oct. 10 includes preview of new documentary, Meet Me in the Bottom: The Struggle to Reclaim Richmond's African Burial Ground, produced and directed by Dr. Shawn Utsey, chair, Dept. of African American Studies at VCU. Afrikana, VCU student organization, launches on-campus campaign to support reclaiming the Burial Ground from within; seeks meeting with Dr. Rao. Virginia Friends of Mali and Richmond Sister City Commission gain Sister City status for Segou MALI and Richmond on Oct. 13; Mayor of Segou's remarks include desire to be involved with Burial Ground and Slave Trail.

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Visit the historical marker honoring the life and struggle of Gabriel, slave rebellion leader, located on the sidewalk overlooking the endangered "Burial Ground for Negroes" at 1554 E. Broad Street, in Richmond's Shockoe Bottom Historic District.