Opponents of a new Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) ballpark say the proposed site did indeed host slave trading and are calling on the City Council and Mayor Dwight Jones to scrap the project.
A letter from local activists, along with accompanying documentation, comes as the City Council will consider a first step in the ballpark approval process at Monday’s meeting. The letter, signed by 24 opponents of the ballpark, asks that the council reject the proposed ballpark because it would be built on the sites directly related to the slave trade, including one where Solomon Northrup, whose story was recently memorialized in the move 12 Years a Slave, was held for 24 hours. The letter reads in part:
However, a YES vote will clearly imply that the part of that proposal calling for a baseball stadium in the heart of what was once this country’s second-largest slave-trading district is acceptable.
Yes, Mayor Jones has insisted that there are no slavery-related sites in the footprint of the proposed ballpark. As has been reported, he based his stand on incorrect information he received from City Council’s Slave Trail Commission. In fact, four such sites have been identified within the stadium footprint and seven more within the overall Shockoe Bottom development area. (Please see the attached file for a list of slavery-related sites in the area. Those within the stadium footprint are highlighted in yellow.) This information comes from Richmond historian Elizabeth Kambourian, whose preliminary map from 2000 was used – without her permission – to justify a Shockoe stadium.
Perhaps some of you have seen the Oscar-nominated movie “12 Years a Slave,” based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup. In his book, Mr. Northup describes a night he spent in Goodwin’s slave jail, located on 17th Street between Grace and Broad – within the footprint of the proposed stadium. That section of the book is also attached.
This is far from a purely local issue. Richmond has an official sister-city relationship with the city of Ségou in the West African Republic of Mali. Most of the people torn from Africa and brought to what would become the United States were from the old Malian Empire. Attached is a letter that the Honorable Ousmane K. Simaga, Mayor of the City of Ségou, has written to Mayor Jones, pleading with him not to dishonor the memory of his ancestors by allowing developers to build a stadium on land where his people were bought and sold like cattle….
Please take the time to review this material before you cast your vote on Monday.
And then – please – ask yourself if you really want to mark this year’s Black History Month by voting for a resolution that says that none of this history really matters.
Whether this affects the vote remains to be seen. We’re at the point now where this has little to do with baseball and everything to do with the politics of race and memory. The fear that atrocities of the past will be forgotten is very real; the desire to move on to the future with development and create jobs in a city where the unemployment rate is above the national average is also very real.
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