In Richmond, there is a proposal to build a new minor-league baseball park. But it has become a controversy that extends far beyond baseball, touching into the city’s sensitive racial history.
The stadium is being planned for a site near an old slave market and cemetery that includes the graves of African-Americans who lived long before the Civil War. And the plans for the ballpark have ignited an uproar over what protesters said would be desecration of the area.
Richmond’s mayor, Dwight C. Jones, has maintained that the construction of a new 7,200-seat stadium would be play an important role in stimulating the city’s economy and that it would create jobs as part of a $200 million development of the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood.
The development plans also include construction of a new hotel and roughly 750 apartment units. The new ballpark would be the new home of Richmond's Flying Squirrels, an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.
"No one will be left behind," said Jones, an African-American minister, speaking recently to hundreds of residents who attended an event where the mayor discussed the plans for the development. The new stadium, he said, would not be placed directly over the old slave market and cemetery.
However, the plans have drawn criticism from a number of people, most prominently grass-roots community and civic groups. They complain that they are disturbed by what they consider the direct and close proximity to a location that should be preserved and remembered and not developed.
In fact, the mayor’s event was interrupted by a number of protesters, who chanted “Don't leave our ancestors behind,” while carrying placards stating, “No Stadium on Sacred Ground" and "Stadium, No. Historic District, Yes."
“We feel insulted and incensed that they are looking to build a stadium in an area that is sacred to us,” said Roland Deane, a co-founder of the African Ancestral Chamber, a nonprofit organization that sees to educate young people and others about African-American history and traditions.
“This is a place that is an important site for the manpower that built this country,” Deane said, in an interview with BET.com.
“There are many other places they could have found,” he added. “They could even have given an upgrade to the stadium they already have. I’m sure many of the fans would prefer for it to stay right where it is.”
Richmond has a prominent place in the nation’s racial history. It served as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War in the 1860s. The slave market there was once the second-largest in the nation.
The plans for the new ballpark are not yet locked in stone. It must be approved by Richmond’s City Council.
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(Photo: Courtesy of Revitalize RVA)