Some of Richmond’s troubling and painful history are being uncovered in Shockoe Bottom.  The Times-Dispatch led off its article about the Lumpkin’s Jail excavation with one of the most disturbing discoveries:

With young black men used as bait, dogs were trained to track and pursue runaway slaves in the cobblestone courtyard of a Richmond slave jail….The cobblestone courtyard was referenced in the writings of 19th-century author and abolitionist Richard Henry Dana, said Philip J. Schwarz, a member of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission.

“The dogs would accompany the coffle [a group chained together] taking people south. If somebody tried to run away, they let the dogs loose,” Schwarz said. “It was part of the brutality.”

Of course, the excavation sheds light on a contested section of our city: Shockoe Bottom.  Debates have been ongoing for years now about what to do with this land.  McQuinn, the current chair of the city’s Slave Trail Commission, proclaims that these findings will factor in whatever development happens in the area:

[McQuinn] said it was too early to discuss a developer’s plans for a baseball stadium and condominiums in the area, but that they would continue to pursue their goals “not be deterred by a developer’s plans.”

“Richmond will speak loud and clear what they want for this particular area,” McQuinn said.

As always, I hope that meaningful public participation will be part of any development plan for the area.

And I hope that in this city so filled with history, some kind of public memorial will be built for this history we’ve buried for too long.

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