What’s the plan: The Lumpkin’s Jail Site

After years and years, the city prepares to move forward with…something…at the site of the slave jail.

Photo by: UR Living Learning

Earlier this week, Richmond Speaks released their Draft Report on Community Engagement (PDF). In it they detail the findings from “seven public meetings; eight classroom visits; 450 in-person engagements; 133 outreach to teachers, administrators, houses of worship, and libraries; and 955 unique visitors to the website.” The report is to be used as a “foundation upon which to build” the future of the Lumpkin’s Jail Site. Let’s dig in.

Wait, what?

In the mid-1800s Robert Lumpkin owned a slave jail. A terrible person by all accounts, Lumpkin oversaw the incarceration, purchase, torture, and death of many, many enslaved Black people. Some of those that died were interred inthe nearby burial ground, which was also terrible. The Civil War came and went, the surviving enslaved prisoners of Lumpkin’s Jail were emancipated, and the buildings torn down in the late 1800s. Later, I-95 bisected Richmond’s Black neighborhoods, obliterating a significant portion of Black history in Shockoe Bottom. Then in 2008 archeologists rediscovered the Lumpkin’s Jail Site–which was remarkably preserved due to all the airtight mud provided by the nearby Shockoe Creek. Realizing we had a unique piece of both American and Richmond history on our hands, the City decided to start the process to create something in the Bottom relating to Richmond’s history of enslaving humans1.

Somewhere in there a baseball stadium got involved, and then got uninvolved, which delayed things. Now here we are, sans baseball, with most folks in agreement that we should move forward with _something_ in Shockoe Bottom that tells the story of slavery in Richmond.

So what should that something be?

No one knows! But lots of people have thoughts, and that was the point of the study conducted by Lord Cultural Resources2. Over the course of a couple public meetings Lord collected feedback (the entirety of which you can read in the last couple pages of the study) and distilled it into seven things Richmonders are looking for out of the Lumpkin’s Jail Site. Here they are:

  1. Richmonderes want a place that is authentic–that tells the whole story, that communicates real emotions and allows people to experience what it was like at Lumpkin’s Jail Site.
  2. Richmonders feel strongly that the geographical area of the site should grow beyond the Lumpkin’s Jail Site and be broad in scale.
  3. Richmonders feel Lumpkin’s Jail Site needs to be an active site of learning and connected to the schools of Richmond and the commonwealth: elementary, secondary, and higher education.
  4. Richmonders feel that something highlighting the story of slavery needs to happen now.
  5. Richmonders expressed concern about the allocation of money and if it is enough to sustain whatever is developed–a museum, pavilion, park, etc.
  6. Richmonders want space to be allocated for a place of healing, reflection, and reconciliation.
  7. Richmonders think the Lumpkin’s Jail Site would be a tourism draw for the area, adding to existing experiences and telling multiple perspectives of the story of slavery.

They then further distilled these seven sentences into six priorities. Whatever development happens at the site, it must be:

  • Expansive
  • Community-focused
  • Educational
  • Authentic
  • Interactive
  • Sustainable

Whoa. OK. So who’s paying for all of those bullet points?

There’s $19 million of combined state and city funds committed to the planning, design, and construction of something in or around the Lumpkin’s Jail Site. Here’s the breakdown:

$11 million from the state

  • $1 million • Improvements to the Slave Trail (PDF)
  • $5 million • Planning, design, and construction of the pavilion at Lumpkin’s Jail
  • $5 million • Planning, design, and construction of a slavery museum

$8 million from the city

  • All money is for the design and construction of the pavilion at Lumpkin’s Jail

Keep in mind the state’s requirements for handing over their portion of the cash: planning, design, and construction of the pavilion at Lumpkin’s Jail and a slavery museum. I’m not sure how loosey goosey the city can get with their concepts for the site and still meet the state’s requirements. Plus, if a new slavery museum is created, how will it work with the nearly-opened Black History Museum? Will the two compete for financial resource? These are legit concerns and are brought up in the study.

Sounds good, what’s next?

There’s another public meeting this Thursday, December 10th at the University of Richmond from 6:00 – 8:00 PM. This will be an opportunity for participants to “vote on priorities and recommend next steps.”

However! Not everyone is stoked on the current process and plans. Ana Edwards, who helps head up the Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality, thinks that the focus on Lumpkin’s is too narrow (see that bit above about the terrible conditions of the nearby burial ground). From a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article:

Just focusing on this one site, important as it is, cannot possibly tell the whole story of Shockoe Bottom, which for years was the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade,” Ana Edwards, a leader with the group, said. “The mayor’s plan does not mention the future of the African Burial Ground. It does not provide any protection for the rest of Shockoe Bottom from inappropriate commercial development.”

The Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality will hold their own meeting earlier in the day on the 10th at 12:30 PM at the Lumpkin’s Jail Site.

  1. This is, obviously, a simplification of both the longterm and shorterm history of things. In fact, all the way back in 1993, Richmonders were putting together the beginnings of history walk focused on the history of slavery in Richmond. 
  2. Who offer “a comprehensive range of integrated services including master planning, business planning, feasibility studies, cultural and heritage tourism planning, strategic planning, facility planning, functional programming, architect selection, interpretive planning, exhibition design, project management, training, and recruitment.” 
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Ross Catrow

Founder and publisher of RVANews.

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