VCU parking lot sparks controversy, student protest

Jamie Trice
Contributing Writer

Monroe Park is a spot frequently used for relaxation. But when a group of students laid on the ground in Monroe Park last month, their motives were clear: they lay in silence, drawing attention to the plight of their ancestors’ burial ground.

The protest was a silent demonstration for ancestors buried underneath a slave burial ground at VCU parking lot on the MCV campus. The protest was organized by VCU students Amie Tudor, Donald Hawkins and Chazity Jones.

“We each had the task of reaching out to our friends and organizations and getting them to come to a secret meeting,” Jones said in an e-mail. “My main part in the whole thing was bringing a lot of people to the meetings and film viewings, we watched Dr. Utsey’s documentary ‘Meet Me in the Bottom.’”

Dr. Shawn O. Utsey, Chair of African-American Studies and director of the Institute for African-American Health Research said the burial plot issue is important to him. He has spoken out and raised awareness in the documentary film called “Meet Me in the Bottom” which has aired Richmond’s PBS station, WCVE.

Earlier this year, former Richmond City Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin filed a second lawsuit against VCU regarding the cemetery. The group wanted people to see VCU’s role in the modification of a burial ground.

“We are standing for justice, yet we understand the significance of this stance for people of color and marginalized people,” protester Kiara Green said in an e-mail. “We are silent for our ancestors buried beneath the VCU parking lot.”

“It’s important because all cemeteries and burial grounds have certain sacredness to people with whom they’re connected,” Utesy said. “Particularly for people who were not valued in life to find some value and their dignity in death is important.”

During the mid-1700s to early 1800s, the parking lot was known as the Negroes’ Burial Ground.

The cemetery was discovered on an map made in 1810. When the map was found, Interstate 95 was already built over a main portion of the land, but VCU had not yet constructed a parking lot on the site. The burial ground is becoming more of an issue because VCU is parking cars over top of what some consider sacred ground.

Sa’ad El-Amin is asking a judge to order a ban to prohibit cars from even parking in this lot.

Currently, VCU still is battling a lawsuit over a parking lot at Shockoe Bottom located North of Broad Street, between 15th and 16th streets that served as an African-American slave-burial ground.

VCU representatives declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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