Friday, October 23, 2009

Williams: The portal of something transformative

Now that the dust has settled on the cold and motionless proposal to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, the time is right to lend a shoulder to the push to do the right thing in that neighborhood.

Michael Paul Williams does a fine job of presenting what is easily the best plan I've heard for what to do with Shockoe Bottom in his column, "Richmond is appropriate place for slavery museum."
Richmond, which has stopped running and hiding from a fundamental facet of its history, is poised to give birth to a slavery museum that never should have been shopped elsewhere.

The Richmond Slave Trail Commission unveiled plans Monday for a slave heritage site in Shockoe Bottom that would include a slavery museum. It's hard not to examine what has been proposed by the commission, led by Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, and not sense that we're at the portal of something transformative.

Click here to read the column.

At Richmond Magazine Jack Cooksey has a piece up on the Slave Trail:

Richmond was the most active slave market after New Orleans, with some 300,000 African-Americans having 
passed through here. And among cities that exported slaves throughout the South, Richmond was the top market, according to historians,

On the Devil’s Half Acre, African-Americans were held captive, punished and “broken” before being sold off as property.

Archaeological excavation of the site last year uncovered the Lumpkin’s Jail foundation, a cobblestone courtyard where slaves were held and a kitchen, as well as artifacts from the period.

Click here to read the entire article and see drawings of what the proposed museum could look like.

In April of this year I penned an opinion piece on this topic for

We Richmonders need for historians and anthropologists to dig up the truth about the business of selling slaves that went on in Shockoe Bottom. We must get over the threadbare notion that leaving that part of the past buried or glossed over with false history is best. A state-of-the-art museum on the history of the international slave trade is the perfect project for those who want to put a unique tourist attraction in Shockoe Bottom. That's something that would bring people to Richmond from all over the world.

Click here to read the entire piece.


paul_h said...

$150 million to compete with 300 to 500 million dollar Smithsonian museum just 100 miles north of here?

Who will finance? Who will come? Is it sustainable?

What about the $80 million GRTC transit center and the hundreds of (noisy) buses to be routed through the bottom, not to mention high speed rail construction? Has the floodplain issue been addressed?

And why is it that (per the Richmond Mag article) "African-American museums have an extraordinarily difficult time getting built, as well as getting financial support.”?

Lot's of questions, very few answers. The size of this proposal is all out of scale. Why is it that we have to have the world's (2nd) largest slave museum? A sustainable, scaled down museum would better suit the area and stand a much better chance of actually being built.

F.T. Rea said...

Paul H., so what is your grievance? The museum should not be built, at all? Or, it should be built but scaled down? Or, that buses should be banished?

It's hard to follow your line of thought, which reads somewhat like warmed-over talking points in favor of the baseball stadium you used to support.

To me, the concept of putting a museum in Shockoe Bottom, dedicated to telling the story of the international slave trade, is first class idea.

paul_h said...

No, I like and support the idea of a slave history museum in Shockoe Bottom. While beautifully rendered, I don't think this plan will be funded or built. In the mean time we (Richmond) will argue about it, study it and the Bottom will remain the same, an underdeveloped area of great potential.

A smaller museum as part of a larger project stands a much greater chance of getting built. Small museums can provide fabulous experiences, i.e., The Richmond Holocaust Museum, The Poe Museum, I'm sure you can think of others.

Richmond seems dedicated on making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Anonymous said...

All of the questions posed by Paul were questions posed by the those opposed to baseball. They deserved answers then, and they deserve answers now. Highwoods suspended it's plan due to the GRTC and high speed rail developments. Perhaps a museum of this size and cost deserves even greater scrutiny, since a museum is not going to bring in revenue like a mixed use ballpark development would.

Notably, though, the footprint of this proposed museum works with Highwoods baseball proposal that was suspended. Perhaps the two projects can leverage each other.

One thing is certain, the ballpark situation will have to be addressed in the near future, or the Flying Squirrels will be finding a new tree to nest in within the next 5 years.

F.T. Rea said...

Anonymous, given what has gone on in Richmond over the last five years, there's no way the new baseball franchise moved here expecting a baseball stadium to be built in Shockoe Bottom.

But I do understand that some of the supporters of the Highwoods/Bostic plan will probably never accept that they lost and it's over.

Anonymous said...

No, but I can assure you they moved here thinking they would not be playing in a renovated Diamond long term. A new ballpark will be discussed, and the Boulevard will not be the leading location.

F.T. Rea said...

Anonymous, forgive me if I seem cynical, but I don't put much store in what a person who hides his/her identity says in the comments of a blog, especially when they claim to have access to inside information.

So, I doubt you actually have much reliable info about what the owners of the Flying Squirrels are thinking, or what they expect.

What you obviously do have is an opinion. Which is fine. I have one, too. But I'm not afraid to sign my name to mine.

Anonymous said...

good lord, when are you going to get over anonymity? You can't talk about an issue - all you want to do is talk about those discussing the issue. You should just disable anonymous comments.

Anyone with a close ear to the ground knows that a renovation of the Diamond won't result in success for the new franchise. I am operating under the assumption that the new owners are not fools, and don't want to fail, so naturally they know they need a new venue. Just read their comments over the last few months - they acknowledge this is a short term fix only.

paul_h said...

Having read the Slave Trail Master Plan, I would like to add a bit to my previous comments.

Hugging I95, the site does not impinge on the rest of the bottom which which leave it open for other development. So there is no conflict.

I like large parts of this proposal and think some of it could be implemented at minimal cost. The signage, gardens, and visitor center would link together with the many other slave trail and heritage sites in Richmond.

That said, I've supported a stadium in Shockoe Bottom for years and still think its a good idea. People and money flowing into the city would be a good thing. These same people would be exposed to the African American history of the place. The largest market for any attraction in Richmond are the million people who live outside the city. I don't see them coming downtown to visit a slave museum. I'm not even sure how well supported it would be by the local black community. To paraphrase Doug Wilder, it's not a comfortable subject for a lot of people, which may explain the difficulty with fundraising.

Just my opinion,

Paul Hammond

F.T. Rea said...

Anonymous, thanks for the advice.

If the franchise moved to Richmond, with the belief that eventually it would be playing its games in Shockoe Bottom, its owners are fools. Bigger fools than the trolls and poseurs who resent it when their anonymously posted comments aren't seen as having credibility.

F.T. Rea said...

Paul H., you aren't alone in thinking a museum devoted to documenting what happened to people who were slaves would not be popular. And, if you're talking about only Richmonders supporting it, you may be right

My view is that if its plan is righteous the money to build it will come from lots of places other than just Richmond. And, if it's done right I think it will be a huge drawing card. It would bring people to Richmond, who would never come here otherwise.

The page needs to be turned on Richmond's discomfort with its role in the history of slavery. The Virginia Historical Society is doing better than ever, and it stopped defending The Lost Cause 20 years ago.

Who cares what Wilder thinks?

Anonymous said...

FT, where did I say they came to town thinking a stadium would be built in the Bottom? I merely said the Diamond wouldn't cut it, that they know it and have acknowledged it, and the Boulevard location would not lead the pack of proposals.

F.T. Rea said...

Anonymous, experience has taught me it's usually a frustrating waste of time to argue with a person who posts anonymous comments that have obviously been designed to be irritating.

So, I try to avoid it.

However, sometimes comments are made by an anonymous entity that are funny, or even informative.

So, I leave SLANTblog open to anonymous comments. But that doesn't mean I'll put up with silly people who just enjoy being obnoxious. And, most of the time, I'll not see any credibility in a post, when the author hides his/her identity.

Maybe that's old fashioned. Maybe it seems un-hip. But I'm an old guy who believes in being true to his school. That's the truth.

A Moment of Truth said...

Another example of shooting the messenger.