Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Virginia Defender Special Issue

This issue is an expository to help visitors to Richmond learn the current social struggles in Richmond regarding Confederate symbolism, racism and coming to terms with the conflicting narratives of our history as a freedom-seeking nation.

Learn about the call to move the race route from highlighting the city's largest single Confederate shrine: Monument Avenue; the struggle to protect Shockoe Bottom from destruction just as we're coming to understand the enormity of its role in the slave trade and the origins of the city; and on the community proposal for Shockoe Bottom.

Richmond today bears the scars of our country’s original contradiction: that the “Land of the Free” was founded as a slave society, and continued as such for 246 years. The effects of that history on today’s social, economic and political issues have never been fully examined.  
Shockoe Bottom can be the place to finally conduct that examination.  
The Memorial Park can be a 9-acre campus of beautifully and thoughtfully designed memorial and educational spaces -- walkable and technologically connected to our city’s wealth of museums, libraries and universities. It can be a living Site of Conscience and a fitting legacy for this generation of Richmonders to gift to our children.  
A Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park, located within a day’s drive of half the country’s population, can be a national site for truth, compassion, freedom and progress.

Your voice is needed to make this vision a reality. 

To get involved, please contact: 

Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality

PO Box 23202, Richmond, VA 23223 
Ph: 804-644-5834

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Statement by the
Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality

Bowing to years of growing local, national and international pressure, Richmond City Council voted Nov. 10 to keep baseball on the Boulevard, where it has been played for nearly 60 years. This effectively kills – for now – the reactionary, developer-driven proposal to build a baseball stadium in historic Shockoe Bottom, once the center of the massive U.S. domestic slave trade.

As we celebrate this important victory, we call on all defenders of Black History to rededicate ourselves to reclaiming and memorializing a section of Shockoe Bottom in order to pay homage to the hundreds of thousands of Black people who suffered and resisted on this sacred ground.

This latest proposal to build a stadium in the Bottom – the fourth such proposal that we are aware of – was first raised Aug 5, 2012, in a Richmond Times-Dispatch opinion piece co-signed by Jack Berry, Executive Director of Venture Richmond, and Kim Scheeler, President and CEO of the Greater Richmond Chamber (of Commerce). These two wealthy white men represent the ruling 1 percent of the Richmond region, including the developers who stood to profit handsomely from the proposal. 

Not once in their opinion piece did they mention slavery or the slave trade in which Shockoe Bottom played the central role.

An opposing opinion published two weeks later in the Times-Dispatch threw down the gauntlet, declaring, “There will be no baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.” That piece was co-signed by Defenders Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto; Shawn Utsey, at the time the Chair of African American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University; and then-Virginia State Conference NAACP Executive Director King Salim Khalfani.

It was one year ago today, on Nov. 11, 2013, that Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones unveiled the Revitalize RVA economic development plan that included as its anchor a Shockoe Bottom stadium.

From the first anti-stadium salvo in 2012, the opposition movement has grown to include hundreds of people – Black organizations such as the African Ancestral Chamber, All as One, Urban Awareness, Inc.; Nation of Gods & Earths; and the Richmond Branch NAACP. Important support came from Latino immigration rights activists and from progressive organizations like the Wayside Center for Popular Education; Collective X; Flying Brick Library; 13ainbridge Collective; Shockoe Resistance; Food Not Bombs; and many more.

Hundreds of people attended City Council meetings. More than three dozen academics and museum directors signed a statement opposing a Shockoe Bottom stadium. Close to 5,000 people have signed an anti-stadium petition. Descendants of “Twelve Years a Slave” author Solomon Northup traveled to Richmond to speak out against the stadium. Through vigil after vigil, rally after rally, protest after protest, the word spread and more and more people because involved.

The struggle reached a critical mass, resulting in global news coverage, including in The New York Times and Washington Post, the AP and Reuters news services, National Public Radio, CBB and media outlets Canada, Europe and Africa.
Earlier this year major preservationist groups took up the cause, including Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, encouraging Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o, who played Patsey in the movie version of “Twelve Years a Slave,” to write Mayor Jones asking him to back off from the stadium proposal and instead involve the community in a genuine discussion about how to properly memorialize Shockoe Bottom.

Throughout this struggle, Venture Richmond and the Greater Richmond Chamber spent at least $50,000 in a slick pubic relations campaign to try and convince Richmonders – especially the city's  Black community – that a Shockoe Bottom stadium was in their interests. Mayor Jones spent more than a half-million in taxpayer dollars on “studies” for the same purpose – while the city's public schools continued to deteriorate to the point where a group of high school students marched on City Hall demanding “Money for Schools, Not for Stadiums!”

The fight came down to a long, drawn-out public relations battle for the hearts and minds of the public. It was truly David against Goliath – and David won.

The Defenders are proud of the role we have played in this fight. As an organization that for 12 years has been fighting for “Freedom, Justice & Equality,” we were in a unique position to explain the real issues from a position of credibility. Our newspaper, The Virginia Defender, and our weekly radio program Defenders LIVE, played central roles in educating, motivating and organizing the opposition. We hosted a series of activist meetings to make sure all voices were represented in devising strategy and tactics. We supported all opposition efforts – the Baseball on the Backs of Blacks initiative, the billboard campaign, protests at the Diamond stadium, the referendum effort and more. 

But we always knew the fight would come down to one thing: was the community – especially the Black community – willing to come forward and fight to defend and preserve the sacred ground of Shockoe Bottom? The answer was a resounding YES!, and last night we all succeeded in stopping the stadium.

Victory is sweet, but now it's on to the second, even more important stage of this struggle: to reclaim and properly memorialize a section of Shockoe Bottom. Working with other community advocates and organizations and the National Trust, we are moving forward with this effort A broad set of guiding principles is being developed that will be raised and discussed at a series of community meetings around Richmond. Many voices – but  especially the voices of the descendant community – will have input. Should there be a museum? An interpretive center? A genealogy center? A performing arts space? A Sacred Ground Memorial Park? Statues? Signage? Tours? All this must be decided collectively, with the Black community having the primary voice – and the primary economic benefits of any development.

And then we will encourage the City do the right thing.

As we stated in the August edition of The Virginia Defender, we are giving the City of Richmond until April 3, 2015, to demonstrate that it is serious about creating a community-driven Shockoe Bottom memorial. That date will mark the 150th anniversary of the Liberation of Richmond and the ending of more than 100 years of slavery in the city. What a travesty – an international shame – it would be if by that date the now-majority-Black former Capitol of the Confederacy has still failed to rise to the challenge of facing the city's past and moving in a united way to a better, more honest future. 

If there is no progress by April 3, the Defenders will announce plans to protest at the UCI Road World Championships, the international bicycle competition scheduled for September 2015 here in Richmond. Some 400,000 visitors are expected, along with reporters from more than 100 countries and millions of television viewers.

The Defenders have been very creative in the past in finding ways to focus media and public attention on local issues. Hopefully, April 3 will be a day of celebration – both of the end of slavery in Richmond and of a process for the city to finally come to terms with its terrible past, a past directly related to most of the social and economic challenges facing Richmond today.

We strongly encourage the City – its mayor, City Council and other officials– to do the right thing. 

We know that we and our allies will do the same.

The statement is issued by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, “an all-volunteer organization of Virginia residents working for the survival of our communities 
through education and social justice projects.”

Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality 
PO Box 23202, Richmond, VA 23223 – Ph: 804.644.5834 – Fax: 804.332.5225
Email: – Web:

Find the latest issue of The Virginia Defender (Vol. 10 No. 3) at

Major breakthroughs on Shockoe stadium struggle!

  • Squirrels to stay at Diamond for next 2-5 years
  • ‘12 Years a Slave’ actress tells Mayor Jones: ‘Set aside the stadium plans!’
  • National Trust initiates Community Conversation on Shockoe’s future

Shockoe Bottom relevant ordinances returned to city council meeting on Mon., Nov. 10; here are the results:


ORDINANCE No. 2014-204  As Amended
To authorize the Chief Administrative Officer, for and on behalf of the City of Richmond, to execute a Stadium Use Agreement, as amended, between the City of Richmond and Navigators Baseball LP, for the purpose of granting Navigators Baseball LP a right to use the property known as The Diamond, located at 3001 North Boulevard.
INTRODUCED: October 13, 2014
Patron – Mayor Jones


To support efforts by the Economic Development Authority to negotiate with the desired intent to acquire the properties known as 103 Ambler Street, 1601 East Grace Street, 1600 East Franklin Street, 1604 East Franklin Street, 1606 East Franklin Street, 1610 East Franklin Street, 200 North 17th Street, 208 North 17th Street, 212 North 17th Street, 214 North 17th Street, 220 North 17th Street, 222 North 17th Street, 1715 East Grace Street, 300 Oliver Hill Way, 400 Oliver Hill Way, 510 Oliver Hill Way, 101 North 17th Street, 207 North 18th Street, 1800 East Grace Street, and 1609 East Franklin Street for the purpose of developing one or more facilities for commercial enterprises in order to promote economic development in Shockoe Bottom and the City.
INTRODUCED: July 14, 2014
Patron – Mr. Baliles
Committee - 2013-2016 Land Use, Housing, and Transportation

RESOLUTION No. 2014-R184 
To request that the Chief Administrative Officer cause to be issued a request for proposals for the purpose of selecting a development company for the Boulevard Site.
INTRODUCED: September 8, 2014
Patrons – Mr. Baliles and President Samuels
Committee - 2013-2016 Organizational Development

Click here to see the UPDATED Agenda for the Nov. 10 City Council meeting.

Other papers ...
PASSED: 2014-R238 (selling bonds to pay for 2014-2016 projects, including another project by Salomonsky & White, 5th dist. councilman Agelasto opposed)
CONTINUED to DECEMBER 8: 2014-229 (making city employee wages comparable to public sector employee wages)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

!Chokwe Lumumba!

Chokwe Lumumba's death is a loss both personal and collective. 

Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba died at the age of 66 on Feb. 25, 2014. Taking office just last July, a true people's mayor, Lumumba lived according to his principles - without fear, with strength and faith in the people. He was a Black man committed to his belief in unity of all peoples while advocating for the self-determination of Black people. He was a good man and he was elected mayor in a majority Black city in a period when most elected people elected are too afraid to speak truth to power and money, much less act truth to power and money. He had a plan, it's now the plan of the people of Jackson. Chokwe Lumumba is now one of our beloved ancestors. Long live the heart of Chokwe Lumumba. Long live the people of Jackson Mississippi. Long live the People. May Richmond live and learn as well.


Jackson Free Press

USA Today

Democracy Now!

New York Times

Monday, May 20, 2013

Report-Back: The murder trial of Ashley Williams began this morning

The murder trial of Ashley Williams began this morning in Richmond circuit court, John Marshals Courts Builiding, 400 N. Marshall St.

Ms. William is the single, poor, 27-year old, African American mother charged with deliberately neglecting her youngest child D’Shawn, allowing him to starve to death. D’Shawn died on May 30, 2009, and it is only because of intense community interest in the case that the prosecution of Ms. Williams was delayed until today. Members of the family and the community have packed virtually every court hearing over the last several years.

The previous judge recused himself without comment, and the trial is being presided over by a visiting jurist, Judge Alfred B. Swersky. The morning was taken up by jury selection. The composition of the 12 jurors and 2 alternates is 8 whites, 6 African American, and includes 5 white men, 3 white women, 3 Black men and 3 Black women. After jury selection and a short break, opening statements were made. The 2 sides presented diametrically opposed portraits of Ms. Williams.

The prosecution spoke first, arguing that Ms. Williams never wanted her youngest child, and neglected him in a way she did not her other children, that she failed to follow doctors orders and didn’t feed the child adequately, particularly giving him nothing to eat in the last 3 days of his life.

The defense, Virginia state delegate Joe Morrisey, assisted by Paul Gregorio, attorneys from the law firm of Morrissey & Goldman, argued that far from being a neglectful parent, Ms. Williams was an extraordinary and compassionate caregiver, who had taken into her home her terminally ill mother (who was dying of lupus), with 3 toddlers at home, and while working a full time job with no health benefits. She asked a half sister to care for her newborn until her mother passed. When she started receiving more family help, she brought D’Shawn back to her home. Concerned about his continued low weight (his birth weight was 5lb 13oz) she repeatedly brought him to physicians at Manchester Pediatrics and Memorial Hospital (confirming the name of the hospital). D’Shawn was seen by physicians as late as 2 weeks before he died. No alarms were raised. At her doctor’s suggestion she was feeding him PediaSure (a nutritional supplement food for infants and children) which she determinedly tried to get him to eat and then ran out of a few days before the end of the month as well as the money to buy it.

Morrissey said he would present several witnesses along with photographs and a video showing Ms. Williams trying to get D’Shawn to eat in the weeks before he died.

The trial broke for lunch, then resumed at 2:15. It is expected to continue into Wednesday.

Along with family members who are also witnesses in the trial, attending today were Marty Jewell (former city council member), Scott Price (Alliance for Progressive Values), members of the Defenders, of CollectiveX, and the prisoner support group SPARC, among others.

The Defenders are making a special appeal to the Black community! Ashley is facing up to 45 years in prison for crimes she did not commit. The judge is white, the 2 prosecutors are white. Her defense attorneys are white. Even the 4 news reporters covering the trial are white. The Virginia Defender is the only community newspaper covering the trial. Don’t let Ashley stand alone. Come out this afternoon. Come out tomorrow morning. The court room number will be posted. If you can only come for 20 minutes, don’t let this sister face this trial without knowing that her own community has her back.


Ana Edwards, on behalf of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality