Fighting to Save African-American Cemeteries

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For more than 10 years, Richmond, Va.'s oldest municipal burial ground for people of African descent has been covered over by an active parking lot owned by Virginia Commonwealth University. The dead cannot speak, so Richmond's African-American community has been fighting to remove the parking lot and protect its ancestral legacy.

Richmond, former capital of the Confederacy, was one of the largest slave trading centers in the U.S. and a place to which many African Americans can trace their roots. Dead Africans -- free and enslaved -- were buried at Richmond's African Burial Ground between about 1750 and 1814; it was known then as the "Burial Ground for Negroes." This was also the site of the execution of the famous slave rebellion leader Gabriel Prosser. 

The Virginia State Legislature recently passed a bill that transfers the property from VCU to the Richmond City Council's Slave Trail Commission. It becomes law on July 1, 2011, and the university's Board of Visitors is expected to surrender the property on May 23. The university's president and the mayor of Richmond are expected to attend the turnover. Several private contractors have offered to remove the lot's asphalt, free of charge.

However, this transfer has only happened because of constant pressure on VCU and state and local legislators by Richmond's black community. The university had resisted the African-American community's appeals to shut down the parking lot since purchasing it several years ago. The school even ignored its own students' protests....

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