For more than 20 years, a group of devoted Richmonders has made sure that the story of the city’s slave trade is unearthed and told. They include state Del. Delores McQuinn, Elegba Folklore Society’s Janine Bell, the Rev. Ben Campbell and the nonprofit Hope in the Cities. Others have joined them along the way. Twelve years ago, the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality shed light on Richmond’s African Burial Ground and tirelessly worked to save it and share its story.
Which brings us to today.
Many Richmonders, thanks to the efforts of those above, know about the domestic slave trade in Shockoe Bottom and now want that story shared through a defined space. While there is some state and local money to formally begin the process — $19 million — more needs to be raised to present and maintain a compelling experience in the Bottom. (See page 70.)
That leads us to the next step. When legislators meet this month with Mayor Dwight C. Jones and McQuinn to get a report on the Lumpkin’s Jail site, they need to ask who the future stewards of the project will be.
Back in 2011, before the Lumpkin’s slave heritage site was folded into the mayor’s now-defunct baseball stadium and commercial development plan, executive committee members of the city’s Slave Trail Commission — McQuinn, Bell, Campbell and the Rev. Sylvester Turner — formed the National Slavery Museum Foundation and were the designated officers, Turner told me on Dec. 14.
Recently, the foundation has been “suspended” by the IRS for not filing tax forms. Turner is working to reinstate the group.
Right now, there are no other board members outside the four officers, Turner said. “It’s always been our plan to bring in people to fulfill the dream. … We understand the need to have different levels of expertise.” He said the nonprofit’s bylaws outline a 15- to 17-member board.
The makeup of that board will be crucial, not just in terms of the capacity to raise funds, but also in its ability to operate with transparency, in the spirit of collaboration and without the distraction of political agendas — something at which the current Slave Trail Commission has not been entirely successful.
We need both the wisdom of institutional memory, of the early keepers of the flame, and a new, committed band of storytellers and fundraisers from throughout the region to help deliver “the dream.”