Richmond, Va., Unveils Statue Aimed At Acknowledging City's Role In Slave Trade

Friday, March 30th 2007, 9:17 pm
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The city's slavery memorial debuted beneath flags from Virginia and Africa in a tearful ceremony Friday, another step in the state's recent effort in acknowledging history to soothe slavery's hurt.

A triangle of roughhewn benches resembling ship planks encircles a 13-foot bronze sculpture of two figures hugging. Nearby, a deck spans a rippling fountain, symbolizing the treacherous Atlantic crossing made by so many Africans.

Matching statues have been placed in Liverpool, England, where empty slave ships set sail, and in the west African country of Benin, where slaves were captured.

``Virginia was not an innocent bystander in the matter of slavery,'' Gov. Timothy M. Kaine told a multiracial crowd gathered at the memorial, along a busy corner in downtown Richmond. ``Some expression of apology or regret is ... natural.''

Increasingly, the state has turned to icons, legislation and revised history texts to cope with slavery's legacy.

In February, lawmakers passed a resolution expressing ``profound regret'' for Virginia's role in slavery, which included exporting slaves to cotton-rich states along the Mississippi River once its fields dried out.

Maryland passed a similar resolution, while Congress and lawmakers in Georgia and Missouri are debating similar measures.

Richmond Mayor and former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder _ the grandson of slaves _ is leading efforts to build a national slavery museum amid the Civil War battlefields of Fredericksburg. At Jamestown, where the first Africans landed in 1619, organizers of a 400th anniversary commemoration of the first permanent English settlement have highlighted the role of blacks.

In predominantly black Richmond, where towering monuments honor Southern heroes such as Gen. Robert E. Lee, officials have christened a slave walking trail and are considering a less divisive name for the Museum of the Confederacy.

``We're beginning to acknowledge,'' said Delores McQuinn, who led construction of the memorial through the Richmond Slave Trail Commission. ``That gain speaks volumes to where we're going.''