Virginia to invest $25M to transform historical sites

Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 12:21 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ/Governor’s Office Release) - Governor Ralph Northam has announced his proposed budget will include nearly $25 million to transform historical sites and advance what he calls “historic justice initiatives” in Virginia.

“These investments will help Virginia tell the true story of our past and continue building an inclusive future,” said Governor Northam. “At a time when this Commonwealth and country are grappling with how to present a more complete and honest picture of our complex history, we must work to enhance public spaces that have long been neglected and shine light on previously untold stories.”

Governor Northam’s proposed investments include nearly $11 million to support efforts to transform Monument Avenue, the historic section of Richmond that was built around Confederate statues as a permanent memorial to the Lost Cause. Seven Confederate statues were removed in 2020, and the state-owned Robert E. Lee statue is expected to be removed in 2021, according to the governor. This funding will enable the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to hire staff and launch a community-driven initiative to redesign Monument Avenue.

“For too long, Richmond’s Monument Avenue told an incomplete and inaccurate story of the city and Virginia’s past,” said Alex Nyerges, Director and CEO of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “The funding to transform Monument Avenue will allow us to reenvision an inspirational, forward thinking, inclusive and healing place for everyone who lives in and visits our city and Commonwealth.”

“On behalf of many neighbors, this news is exciting and hopeful,” said Monument Avenue resident Alice Massie. “We welcome a future on Monument Avenue that includes a visual expression and experience that is welcoming and inspirational to all people.”

The investment will also include $9 million for the development of a Slavery Heritage Site and improvements to the Slave Trail in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom neighborhood. This funding will support efforts to preserve the area known as the Devil’s Half-Acre, or Lumpkin’s Jail, as a historical site.

“Hundreds of thousands of enslaved persons were forced to pass through Lumpkin’s Jail on the Slave Trail in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, the epicenter of the slave trade,” said Delegate Delores McQuinn (D-70). “The development and investment in these historic sites is paramount in telling the truth about all of Virginia’s history.”

The Governor’s proposed budget will also include $100,000 to support the Virginia Emancipation and Freedom Monument project on Brown’s Island.

“The Emancipation and Freedom Monument on Brown’s Island will commemorate the abolition of slavery and recognize numerous African American Virginians who were devoted to advancing freedom and civil rights,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-9). “This funding will move this important project another step closer to becoming a reality.”

“This constitutes a massive investment in centering stories of trauma and resilience that have been sidelined by proponents of slavery, the Lost Cause, and segregation,” said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. “The Commonwealth’s support is the tool we need to commemorate and communicate Richmond’s real history and honor unjustly silenced voices.”

This investment will also include $5 million to repatriate tombstones from the former Columbian Harmony Cemetery in Washington, D.C. and create the Harmony Living Shoreline memorial. Headstones were removed from this historic African American cemetery and relocated in 1960 to make way for commercial development, including the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Washington Metro station. While some headstones were moved to a new cemetery in Landover, Maryland, others were sold off by the developer and used to create a riprap shoreline for erosion control along the banks of the Potomac River.

“I was horrified when I discovered the headstones from Columbian Harmony Cemetery scattered along two miles of shoreline on the Potomac River,” said Senator Richard Stuart (R-28). “With the help of this funding, we will be able to return many of these to a better and more respectful resting place while creating a memorial to remember those that we are unable to remove. I deeply appreciate the Governor’s help in righting this terrible wrong.”

“These are not just investments in physical space, but in the telling of our shared history,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby (D-74). “These initiatives will help us continue the effort to uncover the truth of the past. We must finally get this right.”

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