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‘Transition by the Slave Trail Commission was not because of dysfunction’

10/21/2021, noon
Re “Defunct: Richmond Slave Trail Commission, formed in 1998 by City Council to advocate for educating people about the enslaved ...

Re “Defunct: Richmond Slave Trail Commission, formed in 1998 by City Council to advocate for educating people about the enslaved and the city’s long and sordid history with slavery, no longer exists,” Free Press Oct. 14-16 edition:

In response to the article, “Defunct,” I would like to start by saying Delegate Delores McQuinn, Rev. Ben Campbell and I sat with Free Press staff writer Jeremy Lazarus for one hour and a half and all he could write was unpleasantries about the history of the Slave Trail Commission.

The transition by the commission was not because of dysfunction but our efforts to fulfill its original mission of building a museum, and under the current structure, that was unlikely. We looked at the model used by the Maymont Foundation to establish a foundation while maintaining a relationship with the city, which was essential. A foundation is in place and working toward the stabilization of it so as to attract the quality of leaders needed to build a $200 million museum to honor our history and ancestors that died building this country. Mr. Lazarus was informed of this, but made no mention of it in the article.

Former City Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin was the founding chair of the Slave Trail Commission, which started out as the Unity Commission, from 1994 until his legal troubles caused him to resign from City Council and the commission. Look at what the commission did from 1994 until 2000 when Mr. El-Amin was the chair and before Delegate McQuinn took over: Absolutely nothing. Check the records. Under Mr. El-Amin’s watch, the end goal was a museum, but now he says that it is a pipe dream. This is the voice that is being used to slam and discredit the commission.

Under Delegate McQuinn’s leadership, the commission has placed markers to tell our story along the trail where tens of thousands of people have walked; had a Reconciliation Statue erected, where five African ambassadors attended; completed an archaeological dig on the Lumpkin’s Jail site, that the Smithsonian said was one of the most significant digs in America; brought in consultants for an inclusive engagement with the community to be sure their voices were a part of the process; and, as the article stated, worked with the Smith Group, one of the leading designers of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. In addition, we have raised nearly $30 million toward its development.

Could some things have been done differently? Yes. Has the commission lost sight of its goal? No.

The proposed demise of a commission is worthy of headlines, but the truth of the situation is dismissed. Our ancestors are rolling over in their graves and I feel that Ray Boone, the late publisher and editor of the Free Press, is one of them.

REV. SYLVESTER L. TURNER

Richmond

The writer is pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church.