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Richmond Confronts Past & Present

Richmond's African Burial Ground Vandalized

Last week a team of designers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst held a series of community meetings in Richmond to discuss possibilities for a memorial park in and around Richmond’s African Burial Ground.

On Friday before a standing-room crowd at the Black History Museum, the team unveiled designs that include an interactive wall and a grove of about 30 lighted towers. But as Kelley Libby reports, the Burial Ground itself was vandalized over the weekend.

“The glass is still here, somebody actually picked up all the candles and threw them on the ground, and the glass is everywhere.”

The vandalism included the smashing of more than a dozen glass candle holders from an alter.

Free Egunfemi, a historical interpreter who originally installed the altar and maintains a memorial space here, discovered the vandalism on Sunday. The candles had been smashed against a sign that tells the history of the burial ground and of enslavement in Richmond. Much of the glass was scattered among overgrown grasses and weeds.

“It was just a blatant—we’d been here two days prior and then when we came back it was in a shambles. And there’s glass all over the ground right now, the weeds were all the way up to our waist. It’s places and areas that have been overgrown so neglectfully that it’s an embarrassment to even come down here. So we came to fix things the best that we could and add to the work that we’re doing to others that are doing work down here at the Burial Ground.”

The vandalism comes on the heels of a provocative art exhibit that interrogates Richmond’s confederate monuments and a series of community meetings about a vision for a memorial park here at Richmond’s African Burial Ground.

“And so we’re wondering whether or not the publicity that that’s gotten as well as the publicity from the Iridian Gallery’s Truthful History Heals exhibit – this is all we’ve been talking about for the last two weeks in Richmond—it was a busy week last week. And so suddenly we come here to a desecration at the African Burial Ground.”

By yesterday, an anonymous party had picked up much of the glass and cut grass around the signs.