Memorializing the Lumpkin's Jail Site in Richmond

Dec 10, 2015

Marked by the Richmond Slave Trail marker, the site is difficult to find and not well marked otherwise.
Credit Mallory Noe-Payne / RADIOIQ

In recent months, Richmonders have been deciding how best to memorialize the city's difficult history with race and slavery. Between state and city funds there are almost 20 million dollars to spend on a slavery museum and improvements to the city's Slave Trail.

Lumpkin's Jail, or "the devil's half acre" was the city's most notorious slave jail from the 1830's to the Civil War -- when Richmond was one of the largest hubs of slave trading in America.

But you'd never know it's a site of tragic history, tucked behind Main Street Station, under a busy section of Interstate 95 it's just a small patch of grass, surrounded by parking lot on three sides.

“To transform this ground into a permanent report on our collective humanity, a permanent reminder how the struggle is eternal, and requires our diligence,” said John Mitchell, whose great grandfather died near this site.

Mitchell is here today to say how he’d like the space commemorated. Since September, there have has been a series of forums around the city to figure that out. But Mitchell, and others, are here because they want to see the city do more than just build a museum.

Ana Edwards speaking at Lumpkin's Jail Site.

“The history that we’re talking about is bigger than any one site,” said Ana Edwards is chair of the Sacred Grounds Historical Reclamation Project. 

While Edwards is appreciative of the efforts the city has taken, she’d like to see plans expand beyond Lumpkin's Jail, to the nearby African Burial Ground and other historic sites of the slave trade.

“I think there’s a little bit of trepidation to wholeheartedly commit to balancing the scales it you will,” said Edwards.

A final report from the city’s public forums, with recommended steps and tentative plans, will be presented to Virginia's General Assembly in January.

The final public conversation is happening 12/10, Thursday, at the University of Richmond -- or you can participate by clicking here and hitting  the 'share your thoughts' link.

Here's a link to the full report.

Lumpkin's is a small section of grass between the highway and parking lots.