RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Hollywood, in a sense, has taken sides in the often-bitter battle over historic slave-related property in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, where the mayor wants to build a new baseball stadium and other development, including a slavery museum.
Roughly 200 people gathered beside the old slave trail and Lumpkins Jail site for “Liberation Day 2014” to celebrate and commemorate the 149th anniversary of the capture of Richmond by Union troops, which effectively ended slavery in the former capital of the Confederacy..
Among those present, two descendants of a man who has recently become one of the most famous slaves in U.S. history, Solomon Northup, the subject of the Academy Award-winning movie, “12 Years A Slave.”
Linsey Williams of Fredericksburg and her cousin, Justin Dixon Northup Giliam, said Richmond should fully know what important history is buried in the ground before any digging for a ballpark is done.
“It’s surprising to me there’s a proposal for a stadium here when it has such a historic value, I think, for Richmond and the country,” Williams said.
Her cousin said he’s fine with a ballpark being built that doesn’t overshadow or destroy slave history such as the jail, gallows and burial ground.
“But let’s make sure we dig first (for history) before we start digging for baseball,” Gilliam said. “How are we going to know what’s under here if we start building a stadium on top of it.”
Some believe Solomon Northup, an educated and skilled writer and musician who was forced into slavery, spent a short time in the Bottom site, but his family believes he only passed through. “There’s no mention of it in his book,” Gilliam said.
But both he and his cousin said Northup’s story represents the devastation and death felt by so many slaves and their families in this nation, including in the slave port of Richmond.
That history, they said, must be preserved and honored.
They were invited to participate in the event by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality.