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Emancipation Day Observed Despite Missing Officials

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Ana Edwards of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project says officials could have made a better effort to honor Emancipation Day. - ASH DANIEL
  • Ash Daniel
  • Ana Edwards of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project says officials could have made a better effort to honor Emancipation Day.

While the rest of the city recovered from its collective Final Four hangover Sunday, more than 60 people gathered downtown to protest Emancipation Day being pushed aside for basketball.

Mayor Dwight Jones, Gov. Bob McDonnell and Delegate Delores McQuinn were scheduled to attend Sunday's unveiling of new markers for Richmond's Slave Trail. But they announced last week that they were postponing the event because of Saturday's Virginia Commonwealth University game against Butler.

Supporters of the efforts to memorialize the city's slave-trading history decided to mark the day in their own way, with an afternoon rally at the site of the African Burial Ground, a VCU parking lot at Broad and 16th streets that soon will be transferred to the city. People spoke, read poetry and sang while Interstate 95 hummed behind them.

Emancipation Day is "a tremendously important day in Richmond's history," said Ana Edwards, chairwoman of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project. "It shouldn't have been punted aside." On April 3, 1865, Union troops captured the city and broke open Lumpkin's Jail, freeing the slaves held there.

On Friday, the mayor, the governor and McQuinn issued a joint news release saying that "in light of the Final Four festivities taking place this weekend, we decided it was best to move the date" so VCU students could attend.

"There's no basketball game today," activist Phil Wilayto pointed out on Sunday. Even if the mayor and governor could not have returned in time, he says, they could have at least offered to send a representative in their stead.

The mayor's press secretary, Tammy Hawley, told the Times-Dispatch on Friday that Jones would have returned to attend, but that organizers agreed that delaying the event was the best decision so it could get the publicity it deserved.

Wilayto said no one officially notified the Richmond Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, longtime supporters of the burial ground preservation project, that the event had been postponed. Instead, he said, "someone bcc'ed [blind-copied] us on an internal memo."

"This was a big city event. And they blew it off," Wilayto said, adding: "Once again, the mayor's going to look insensitive."

Edwards made clear that she wasn't criticizing VCU's players. "All props and all respects to those phenomenal athletes," she said. "If anything, I would think that those athletes ... would also have been here if they could."

The Defenders will attend the rescheduled event April 10, Wilayto said, but will not officially participate. "Oh yeah," he said. "We'll be here. We'll have a few things to say."

— Melissa Scott Sinclair


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