Mayor Dwight C. Jones addresses the crowd gathered near the Lumpkin's Jail site in Shockoe Bottom on Monday morning. (Photo by Mark Robinson)
The city is moving forward with the commemoration of the Lumpkin’s Jail site, Mayor Dwight C. Jones told a crowd of several hundred onlookers gathered in Shockoe Bottom on Monday morning for a kickoff ceremony.
SmithGroupJJR will handle the $19 million redevelopment of the city-owned site, Jones announced during the two-hour event. The Detroit-based firm served as a co-designer of the recently opened National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.
“We’re not playing with this thing. We’re not getting novices. We’re getting people to come on board who know how to get the job done,” Jones said toward the end of his 10-minute prepared remarks. “I can promise you when this is done, we’ll all be able to be proud of what we have been able to accomplish together.”
In 2015, Jones’ administration led a community conversation series called “Richmond Speaks” about what should happen at the site, known as the Devil’s Half-Acre, which the city first excavated in 2005. What form the memorialization will take is still undecided. The next step of the community engagement process will take place now that an architect is hired, said Jeannie Welliver, a project manager in the city’s office of economic and community development.
“This project is going to be developed through community collaboration,” Welliver said. “We’re not sure how big this thing will be, whether it will be a landscape, a small building, a large building, whether it will require fundraising. But we will work as a community to figure that out, and that process will begin today.”
In attendance were several current and former elected officials, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who took the opportunity to call for a monument honoring President Abraham Lincoln at the site. “I’ve just told [Del.] Delores [McQuinn] – and I’ll lead the fundraising effort – we need a statue of Abraham Lincoln right here at Lumpkin’s Jail to show the world the part of history that we have here,” McAuliffe said.
McQuinn, Jones and others commended former Gov. Bob McDonnell for lobbying for and signing off on the $11 million that state lawmakers set aside for the project. McDonnell said whatever is built on the site should serve as a reminder of the city’s, the state’s and the country’s past.
“For so long, this place has been a testament for man’s capacity of evil … today we celebrate the transformation into a beacon of hope and opportunity and memory of what occurred here,” McDonnell said.
About half a dozen demonstrators wielding signs about the disproportionate effect of law enforcement on African-American communities sought to disrupt the two-hour event from the outset before police intervened.
Another proposal to memorialize Shockoe’s slave-trading history was put forth over the summer and promoted by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality and other groups. It calls for a 9-acre memorial park that would encompass the Lumpkin’s site as well as the adjacent African Burial Ground. The head of the local branch of the NAACP touted the plan at a City Council meeting in September. Four of the city’s seven mayoral candidates — Jon Baliles, Jack Berry, Joe Morrissey and Levar Stoney — have also voiced support for the concept.