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: DefendersFJE@hotmail.com – Web: www.DefendersFJE.blogspot.com

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

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Note to City Council: A Determined, Grassroots Media Campaign Gets Results

Richmond VA: Sep. 12, 2014

Dear Members of Richmond City Council,

The story below was just published on the website of WAMU Radio, "the leading public radio station for NPR news and information in the greater Washington, D.C., area." It also will be aired at 1 pm today and at 7 am tomorrow.

Another story appears in the current edition of Virginia Living magazine. A third is scheduled to be released shortly by the Voice of America TV channel, which is broadcast to 43 countries.

These news stories don't appear by accident. They are the result of a determined, grassroots media campaign that will continue until the Shockoe stadium proposal is buried once and for all. 

By the way, the international bike race scheduled for September 2015 is supposed to attract reporters from more than 100 countries, along with 400,000 spectators. Let's all hope this fight isn't still dragging on during that prestigious event. 

We urge council to permanently block the developer-driven Revitalize RVA plan by supporting our proposal for a Sacred Ground Memorial Park, a copy of which you have all received.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


View and download the special 4-page issue of The Virginia Defender!  The paper distribution begins Thursday evening, July 24.

July 30, 2014

Dear friends,

The struggle over building a baseball stadium in historic Shockoe Bottom has entered a new stage: The Battle of the Barber Shops.

It looks like the business organization Venture Richmond, probably through the Alliance Group public relations firm, has recruited local radio personality Clovia “Miss Community” Lawrence to promote the mayor's development plan in the Black community. Ms. Lawrence is hosting “Up Close and Personal Community Conversations” for the mayor to speak at barber shops on Brookland Park Blvd., Southside Plaza and also at a restaurant in Shockoe Bottom. More such meetings are sure to come.

Following up on Mayor Jones' characterization of stadium opponents as “people who don't look like us” during his Emancipation Day presentation this past January, the goal of this new campaign seems to be to build support in the Black community for the development plan, making it easier for stadium supporters to argue that opposing this for-profit-developer-driven plan is racist.

Ms. Lawrence has written several pieces posted on the websites of local Black-oriented radio stations in which she states that the mayor's plan will result in 1,000 jobs (even Mayor Jones says the figure is 400) and that $30 million has already been raised for a heritage site, which is simply not true.

The main point of the mayor's presentation is that only his plan can produce the money necessary for properly memorializing the slavery-related history of Shockoe Bottom. But City Council has already committed $5 million, with or without a stadium, and the General Assembly has committed $2 million up front and up to $9 million more in matching funds – again, with or without a stadium.

In response, the Defenders have come out with 10,000 copies of a special, 4-page issue of The Virginia Defender, explaining who's behind this new campaign, what's wrong with the arguments and also the benefits of our alternative plan for a Sacred Ground Memorial Park, which allows for all the economic development the mayor has proposed.

We are now distributing this special issue to hundreds of barber shops, beauty parlors, churches, mosques, community centers, grocery stores and more.

We are more than willing to do this work, but we can't fund special issues of the Defender by ourselves. Please help keep this voice of the people alive and strong by making a contribution today – by PayPal at our website (www.DefendersFJE.blogspot.com), or by sending a check or money order made payable to “Defender” to: PO Box 23202, Richmond, VA 23223.

Defend Black History! No Stadium in Shockoe Bottom!


Phil Wilayto
The Virginia Defender  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Richmond is now at a crossroads:

Does it offer up its most historic neighborhood to profit-hungry developers only interested in making a quick buck, or do we develop it as a national historic district that tells all its many stories – American Indian, the founding of the city of Richmond, Quaker, Mason, Jewish and, most importantly, the fact that it was from here that hundreds of thousands of Africans and people of African descent were sold into lives of slavery? And the fact that it was this massive trade and the exploitation of slave labor that formed the economic foundation for the city of Richmond, the state of Virginia and the United States itself?

Such a historic district can only be developed as a result of a real community conversation, primarily within the Black community. Some suggestions so far are to lncude parkland, a museum, genealogy center, bookstore, performing arts space, educational conference center and more that would draw millions from across the country and around the world. For those only interested in the money, it would generate far more revenue for the city, its hotels, motels, restaurants and other attractions than a minor-league ballpark that only draws crowds from the surrounding counties – crowds that after the ballgames get right back on the highway and go home. And it doesn't require the city taking on a $100 million public debt that could leave us headed to bankruptcy if the economy falls into another recession.

We are NOT against development. In fact, opponents have developed an alternative plan, one that would bring in much-needed revenue for the City and allow development on the Boulevard and non-sacred areas of Shockoe Bottom while properly memorializing the area where hundreds of thousands of people of African descent suffered, resisted and as a people survived one of the worst atrocities in human history. See an "Alternative Vision for Shockoe Bottom." athttp://shockoebottom.blogspot.com/p/our-proposal.html.

'NO to a Shockoe Stadium - YES to a Historic District!' 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Recent media updates

  1. Shockoe business owners urge approval for stadium plan

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014 2:14 pm

    About 30 people stood behind a podium in front of C'Est Le Vin wine bar as neighborhood leader David Napier said the project would be a boon to the Shockoe area.

    Venture Richmond head promises Shockoe stadium revival

    Friday, June 6, 2014 12:11 pm

    Mayor Dwight C. Jones withdrew his $79 million Revitalize RVA plan on May 27 just minutes before the Richmond City Council was expected to reject it.

    Mayor’s proposed briefing on Shockoe plan called off

    Wednesday, May 28, 2014 2:56 pm

    Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones won’t be briefing the City Council this week on the Shockoe Bottom stadium plan, which he withdrew from City Council consideration Tuesday night as he pleaded for more time.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2014 12:00 am

    Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones withdrew his proposal for a Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium from consideration Tuesday night in a last-minute gambit for more time just before the start of a City Council meeting where the plan faced near-certain defeat.

    Richmond, Va., Wrangling Over Future Of Historic Slave Trace Site


    On a warm spring night, more than 150 people gathered in Shockoe Bottom, a name taken from the Native American word for a site in Richmond, Va. This part of own, bounded by I-95 and bisected by railroad lines, was central to a city that prospered from the slave trade.