Virginia Commonwealth University

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Emancipation Day at African Burial Ground

April 3, 2011

April 3 was Richmond’s Emancipation Day, marking the day in 1865 when the Confederate capital fell to Union troops. The Richmond Slave Trail Commission and various public officials had planned to hold a ceremony to unveil 17 historical markers documenting Richmond’s harsh past as a center for the slave trade.

However, the event was postponed for a week because Virginia Commonwealth University’s men’s basketball team was in the NCAA Final Four tournament.

The Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality protested that postponement, saying it “adds insult to this historical and cultural injury.” The group has criticized VCU for using a burial ground for slaves and free blacks as a parking lot.

“Not only have the mayor and governor backed out of their commitment to speak on Emancipation Day, but they have done so in order to attend a sporting event in support of the very university that continues to use the African Burial Ground as a parking lot,” said Ana Edwards, who chairs the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project.

“They have done so without hesitation, reservation or explanation, and the city’s Slave Trail Commission is now busy re-arranging everyone else’s schedule to accommodate this abandonment.

“Together these stewards of our city’s and state’s historical and cultural resources have demonstrated to the community at all levels their priorities in regard to honoring Richmond’s African ancestors and helping to overcome Virginia’s tortured racial history.

“As a result, the Defenders can no longer in good conscience participate in this exercise. Instead, we call on all those who support the reclamation and proper memorialization of the African Burial Ground to join us, as planned, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 3, at the Burial Ground, for a community event honoring the ancestors and demanding the immediate closing of VCU’s offending parking lot.”

CNS reporter Katherine Coates covered the Defenders’ Emancipation Day ceremony at the African Burial Ground. She produced this slideshow about the event.