The city has compiled a page of information on the draft Downtown Master Plan, including wonderfully detailed maps that can keep you entertained for days- that is if you’re anything like me and often find yourself dreaming about what Richmond could become.

While scanning these fascinating maps, I discovered a whole slew of new parking lots and garages planned. Fortunately, the master plan calls for them to be “lined with habitable spaces to create a pedestrian-friendly street frontage.”

The suggested locations of these new parking lots are scattered throughout the downtown area. Unfortunately, one of them appears to be on the “Burial Ground for Negroes,” located north of Broad St., squeezed between I-95 and the train tracks. The map of the Shockoe area has the clearest view of this planned lot.

The story of the burial ground is told partially by the historical marker located on the nearby stretch of Broad St.:

EXECUTION OF GABRIEL

Near here is the early site of the Richmond gallows and “Burial Ground for Negroes.” On 10 Oct. 1800, Gabriel, an enslaved blacksmith from Brookfield plantation in Henrico County, was executed there for attempting to lead a mass uprising against slavery on 30 Aug. 1800. A fierce rainstorm delayed the insurrection, which then was betrayed by two slaves. Gabriel escaped and eluded capture until 23 Sept., when he was arrested in Norfolk. He was returned to Richmond on 27 Sept. and incarcerated in the Virginia State Penitentiary. On 6 Oct. he stood trial and was condemned. At least 25 of his supporters were also put to death there or in other jurisdictions.

The burial ground is currently located under a privately owned parking lot. Nevertheless, it has become an officially recognized “stop” on the city’s slave trail walk.

VCU is also interested in developing the site, and lists it as an “area of future consideration” on their master plan (scroll to page 20).

It’s unclear to me how large the burial ground is. Currently the draft master plan has unlabeled green space for a block between Broad and Marshall, then parking north of Marshall. It’s possible, though seems unlikely, that the burial ground is only one city block.

Researching and memorializing this burial ground is an important task for our city. We need to preserve this site, not let VCU develop it, and certainly not let it remain a parking lot.

If I’m able to make it to the next round of public meetings, I would like to raise this issue if there’s appropriate space to do so. If any of you know whether this site was discussed during the charrette process, kindly comment about it below.

The next meeting to discuss the draft master plan is Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 6:30pm at The Renaissance Conference Center (located at 107 W. Broad Street at the corner of W. Broad and Adams Streets).

According to the city, “Free parking for the event will be available to the rear of the conference center.”

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