The Remembrance, Reverence, and Reconciliation of the Shockoe Project 

Shockoe Project | Baskervill

Looking Back

Sometimes described as ‘the headquarters of slavery’, Richmond and its economy were intricately tied to enslaved labor from late in the eighteenth century through the American Civil War. More than 11,000 kidnapped African people were trafficked into Richmond as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

By the time international trafficking of kidnapped Africans was abolished, Richmond was entirely dependent on the institution of slavery, with the city’s labor force comprising almost exclusively of enslaved people. Census records in 1782 document 120 enslaved people within Richmond’s city limits, making up nearly half of Richmond’s population. The population grew rapidly, with Richmond becoming home to over 6,000 Black Virginians by 1840.

Shockoe Project | Baskervill

I-95 cutting through Jackson Ward during construction
(
Library of Virginia)

Following the abolition of slavery in 1863, Richmond’s communities of color experienced significant growth during Emancipation and Reconstruction. These burgeoning communities built vibrant social, economic, and cultural ties. However, this growth quickly faced severe, systemic pushbacks. The destruction and dismantling of these communities, under the guise of urban renewal and slum clearance, continued with the construction of Interstate 95 through Shockoe Bottom and Jackson Ward in the late 1950s, extending well into the latter half of the 20th century.

Shockoe Project | Baskervill

Mural by UnTold RVA at the Shockoe Bottom African Burial Ground

Looking Around

Today, it’s impossible to walk through Shockoe Bottom without feeling the weight of its story. The neighborhood’s history is as rich as it is tragic, scarred with imprisonment and exploitation mere blocks from where historic proclamations of liberty were declared. While the horrors of this chapter of American history are still felt, Shockoe’s legacy is also woven with strength and resilience. It was here where resistance to white oppression helped pave the way for the abolitionist and Civil Rights movements.

Plans for recognizing Shockoe’s complex and painful past began when a mixed-use development was proposed in the early 2000s, sparking citizen-led conversation about how best to honor the neighborhood’s place in broader history. In the ensuing years, research-backed initiatives produced powerful physical structures and a deeper connection to Richmond’s roots.

Initiative Timeline​

Preliminary archaeological investigation of the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail/Devil’s Half Acre site, followed by the excavation in 2008.
Unveiling of the Reconciliation Statue, recognizing the triangular slave trade between Liverpool, England, Benin, West Africa, and Richmond.
The Shockoe Valley and Tobacco Row National Register Nomination was amended to include the trade of enslaved Africans as a commercial enterprise, bringing greater awareness to the area's past.
The first African Burial Ground was reclaimed, offering a place of remembrance to honor those enslaved and buried in unmarked graves.
Installation of 17 markers comprising the Trail of the Enslaved, developed to tell the journey, human impact, and role Richmond played in the tragic history of slavery.
A community-generated proposal for the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park was published, followed by the 2016 Richmond Speaks report.
The Rose Fellowship recommendations led to the creation of the Shockoe Alliance and the Shockoe Small Area Plan that has been adopted as an amendment to the City Master Plan.
2006
2007
2007
2011
2011
2015
2018

These initiatives propelled the necessity for meaningful movement to commemorate and memorialize the unique stories of struggle, steadfastness, survival, and success of those free and enslaved.

In February of 2024, the Shockoe Project was unveiled. This project responds directly to the Shockoe Small Area Plan, and draws on the efforts of many team members, including archaeologists, historians, curators, interpretive designers, architects, artists, and more, as well as direct interactions with the community. Grounding the design in community opinion and public feedback is essential to the design, and fundamental to achieving the Shockoe Project’s reparations function for descendant community benefit. A series of surveys and community engagement studies were collected from past related initiatives to guide the project’s early development. As the project advances, community engagement will continue to inform the development.

Shockoe Project | Baskervill

Stakeholder engagement session

Looking Ahead

The 10 Acres Masterplan

Deeply inspired by the Nkyinkyim—a revered West African Adinkra symbol representing initiative, dynamism, and versatility—the Shockoe Project embodies a profound exploration of the resiliency of the Shockoe Valley. It speaks of a physical delineation that mirrors the hierarchy of life, a symbolic reuniting of generations along a sinuous path. As the structures rise and fall in harmony with the historic creek bed, they become a living embodiment of the interconnectedness of families and the undying spirit of a people united by an unbreakable thread of resilience.

At the heart of this undertaking lies The 10 Acres, a hallowed ground within Shockoe Valley, resonating with the echoes of a painful past. 

Within these ten acres is the proposed Shockoe Institute, envisioned as 12,300 square feet of galleries intricately weaving together the threads of our collective journey.

Shockoe Project Lumpkins Slave Jail Pavillion | Baskervill

Lumpkin’s Slave Jail pavilion rendering

Adjacent to this, the design imagines the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail pavilion unfolding across 21,400 square feet to serve as both an indoor and outdoor exploration of history. Here, visitors are anticipated to encounter poignant remnants of the original Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, bearing witness to the strength and endurance of those who came before us.

Café and retail pavilions rendering

In the spirit of communal nourishment, a 1,900-square-foot restaurant pavilion is proposed as a place where flavors intermingle to celebrate the richness of African culinary heritage. An adjacent 1,300 square foot retail pavilion invites visitors to connect with narratives both past and contemporary.

The Shockoe Project National Slavery Museum | Baskervill

The National Slavery Museum conceptual rendering

The site’s journey crescendos with a 62,100-square-foot museum telling the whole of America’s slave trade story. The building rises high above the sacred ground of the African Burial Ground and Memorial to stand as a sentinel, watching over and protecting the ancestors.

The Shockoe Project | Baskervill

Elevated walking paths rendering

Weaving through the project is a 1,200-foot-long winding pedestrian bridge, an homage to the twisted journey into and out of the valley, and to the Shockoe creek that formed the valley itself. Its sinuous curves will echo the ancestral footsteps, serving as both a literal and figurative triumph over the valley’s symbolic barriers. In crossing, visitors traverse the very ground where ancestors and descendants alike once walked, forging direct connections with the profound legacy below.

As work begins to interpret this site and reveal its story, the team will undertake a journey of discovery and thoughtful community engagement to create a local, national, and international point of connectivity and healing. A place for remembrance, reverence, and reconciliation. Working in close partnership with The City of Richmond Department of Public Works Special Capital Projects Group, Baskervill and our partners envision a space that honors the legacy of Shockoe Bottom with a focus on enslaved and free Africans.

Shockoe Project | Baskervill

Design team workshop

The true story is here; it’s our task to tell it.

Follow project updates at theshockoeproject.com

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