Paved but not forgotten

Karey Harrigan


“Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That was one of the slogans displayed during a silent protest led by VCU students on Nov. 18, at a site that was previously known as the “Burial Ground for Negroes” over a hundred years ago. Now it has been paved over and capitalized as a parking lot for the university. The lot is funded, owned and operated by VCU near the medical campus at Shockoe Bottom.

Although most of the burial ground rests under Interstate 95, at least 50 feet extend into removable pavement under VCU’s regulation, according to the Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources. VCU has set aside a portion of the area near the parking lot for the Slave Commission Trail to memorialize. But even if a small portion of this land is sacred as well, it should not be used as a facility for the university.

An even bigger question is why this land was even bought by VCU in the first place. Elizabeth Cann Kambourian came upon an old Richmond City map in 1992 putting the burial area just north of 15th Street and Broad. That was over 18 years ago. Why would the university buy the area questioned for its historical value as recently as 2008? There was no archaeological test or research done which could have saved the area and VCU from this controversy and allowing the site to be efficiently excavated and honored.

Possibly it is because arguments that advocate leaving the burial as it is stem from the misunderstanding that there is probably nothing left underneath the asphalt. The excuses that the area has been flooded or the actual slave remains are on higher ground could possibly be true but there is still evidence that there could be more. That should be enough. More research needs to be done throughout the entire area in question to quell any doubts, even if it isn’t the most convenient for VCU. Until investigations are done and changes are made to what is practically fact throughout the community, the pressure by students and others to preserve this sacred area will not let up.

I believe the real issue is that there is not much room left for honor or respect when commercial real estate is involved in our society. Just as other projects through the school are easily executed, this sacred piece of land should be just as relevant. For a city that has covered most of its history with businesses, nightclubs and apartment complexes, it should be crucial to at least maintain this small piece of sacred land. VCU administrators must listen to the students and the community and not continue what is an injustice to those who sought freedom.

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