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Harvard University, USA

Stanford University, USA; University of
Pennsylvania Law School, USA

McMaster University, Canada


In the second decade of the twenty-first century,
several sociopolitical developments in western
democracies have suggested the resurgence of
overt racism. Many social commentators initially
heralded the 2008 election of US president Barack
Obama – the country’s first African American
president – as the culmination of a centuries-long
struggle for full inclusion of racial/ethnic minori-
ties. Yet, Obama’s presidency did little to alleviate
racial inequalities in housing, education, and
employment. Antiracist movements, such as the
Movement for Black Lives, emerged to highlight
ongoing issues related to the devaluation of black
people, including state-sanctioned police brutal-
ity which has been disproportionately targeted
at African Americans. Meanwhile, the 2016 US
presidential election only served to legitimate
resurgent white supremacy: US president Donald
Trump and his supporters engaged in widespread
racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim rhetoric,
and the number of reported hate crimes targeted
at racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities
subsequently increased (Levin, 2017).

These developments are not limited to the
United States. In Austria, France, Germany,
Greece, and elsewhere, far right, anti-immigrant
political parties have enjoyed electoral gains.
In the United Kingdom, the 2016 “Brexit”
vote (for Britain’s exit from the European
Union) was split across racial and ethnic
lines. And, in Canada, where government
rhetoric often focuses on embracing diversity

The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Edited by George Ritzer and Chris Rojek.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2019 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
DOI: 10.1002/9781405165518.wbeos1238

and inclusion, indigenous/settler inequalities
mirror black/white inequalities in the United
States. In 2018, for instance, an all-white jury in
Saskatchewan found a white farmer not guilty
in the killing of 22-year-old Cree man Colten
Boushie, whom he had shot in the head with a
handgun. The role of the law in legitimating this
racialized killing in Canada has much in com-
mon with the killing (with impunity) of Trayvon
Martin as well as the many black, Latino, and
indigenous youth and adults in the United States
who have been killed by the police.

With such events in mind, social scientists
today are grappling with such urgent and vital
questions as: How, why, and to what extent is
overt racism returning? What accounts for the
resurgence of white supremacist movements?
And how are racialized nonwhite groups and
allies responding? To place these questions in
context, this entry provides an overview of major
sociological theories of racism and shifts in the
framing of racism over three historical periods
in western democracies, with a focus on North
America: (1) the early colonial and Jim Crow
eras, (2) the civil rights and “postracial” eras, and
(3) the current post-postracial era.

Key Terms

Sociological theories of racism draw on common
terms such as race, ethnicity, discrimination,
racism, and white supremacy, which are often
conflated in popular discourse but have specific
meanings in sociology. These terms will be clari-
fied before describing the three historical periods.

Race is a social construct used to differenti-
ate people into groups on the basis of mostly
immutable characteristics, such as phenotype
(e.g., skin color, hair texture, or eye shape) and
ancestry. While racial groups are differentiated
by physical appearance, there is no evidence
that these physical differences are genetically
related to differences in behavior or intelligence.
Scientists have shown that the amount of genetic
variation within socially defined races is greater

2 R A C I S M

than that between them, the physical traits asso-
ciated with racial groups change across time and
space, and the high degree of mixing between
humans around the world for centuries indi-
cates that “racial purity” has no scientific basis.
Nevertheless, the concept of race is a powerful
social force. Once a society is organized in racial
terms – or once racial categories and meanings
are institutionalized and taken for granted – race
can have profound effects on one’s sense of iden-
tity, health and well-being, and access to jobs,
schools, and neighborhoods.

Contemporary racial categories in the west were
developed in the context of European colonial-
ism, trans-Atlantic slavery, and the global spread
of capitalism. In the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, European scientists, theologians, and
other scholars constructed racial categories and
assigned them characteristics that were used to
justify their status within the emerging racial hier-
archy. One notable classificatory scheme was that
of physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus, who
classified humans into four races similar to those
commonly used today: Africanus, Americanus,
Asiaticus, and Europeanus. Europeanus was
described as “white, sanguine, muscular [and]
inventive,” whereas Americanus was described as
“obstinate,” Asiaticus as “haughty,” and Africanus
as “negligent” (Golash-Boza, 2016: 131). The
traits assigned to these racial categories reveal
the sense of superiority that many Europeans felt
over non-Europeans and laid the foundation for
contemporary racist ideology.

While racial classification of humans has per-
sisted for centuries, the specific groups and
physical traits that fall into racial categories have
changed over time. The number, names, and types
of racial categories thought to exist have varied
greatly, along with the boundaries they create. For
example, the racial category “white” has trans-
formed substantially over the course of American
history. In the nineteenth century, many fair-
skinned European immigrants in the United
States were not considered white (Roediger,
1991). Irish immigrants, for instance, were dis-
criminated against by Anglo-Saxon Protestants
and sought to be accepted as white through their
political affiliations and by emphasizing distinc-
tions between themselves and blacks. Meanwhile,
Middle Eastern immigrants, such as Iranians,
are legally classified as white by the current US

census, despite everyday experiences of nonwhite
racialization and discrimination (Maghbouleh,
2017). In addition to racialization between
groups, within-group racialization based on vari-
ations in skin color and biracial or multiracial
lineage further complicate racial categorization
(Monk, 2014). These examples underscore the
socially constructed nature of race, whose clas-
sifications are the result of social, legal, political,
economic, and ideological struggles.

While race is based on physical traits which
are widely perceived to be immutable, ethnicity
is based on shared culture or heritage – traits
that are often considered to be less fixed and can
vary within and across racial groups. In addi-
tion, some scholars argue that race is assigned
by out-group members, whereas ethnicity is
more a matter of self-identification (Cornell and
Hartmann, 2006). However, Waters (1990) shows
that, in the contemporary United States, white
individuals belonging to European ethnicities
have greater flexibility than nonwhites in how
they choose to identify with their ethnicity. For
instance, Irish Americans can choose to celebrate
their Irish traditions (or not) while maintaining
their dominant status as white. In contrast, black
immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean often
face racial discrimination similar to that faced by
native-born black Americans, despite differences
in ancestry, history, and cultural practices. The
shifting conceptual, legal, and social boundaries
of race and ethnicity further underscore that both
categories are socially constructed.

While there is no single accepted definition of
racism, most sociologists agree that racism entails
an ideology of racial inferiority that generates
or reproduces racial domination and exploita-
tion. Whether conceptualized as individual-level
prejudice, group-level institutional policies, or
both, racism is a taken-for-granted belief system
which posits that some racial groups are naturally
superior to or more deserving of material and
symbolic resources than other groups (Clair and
Denis, 2015). According to some scholars, racism
also involves the power to enforce racial inequali-
ties. In western democracies, racism has taken the
form of white supremacy, which entails systematic
advantages (e.g., access to resources and opportu-
nities) for persons defined as white, and system-
atic disadvantages (including stigmatization) for
others, especially black and indigenous peoples.

R A C I S M 3

Thus, while anyone can be prejudiced (holding
negative attitudes toward out-groups), only
whites – the racial group currently with the most
institutional power in the west – can be racist.

Racial discrimination is defined as unequal
treatment of individuals on the basis of their racial
group membership. The distinction between
racism and racial discrimination lies in the latter’s
behavioral component. Racism is an ideology
that justifies or prescribes the behavioral act of
certain forms of racial discrimination. Racial
discrimination, however, is not always enacted on
the basis of racism. For instance, race-conscious
preferential treatment for the purpose of recti-
fying racial inequality – for example, affirmative
action in employment or higher education – is
a form of racial discrimination but not a form
of racism. Racial inequality, defined as unequal
outcomes between racial groups (e.g., in income,
education, health, or incarceration), is often
assumed to result from racial discrimination. Yet,
in a purportedly postracial era in which overt
racism is thought to have declined, many scholars
have debated the extent to which contempo-
rary racial inequalities and specific instances of
racial discrimination are rooted in contemporary
racism. Some scholars and everyday commenta-
tors have suggested that disproportionate levels
of poverty and/or cultural behaviors misaligned
with middle-class white society are primary
causes of racial inequality. As we describe in the
following sections, sociological approaches to
racism in the mid- to late twentieth century were
largely concerned with detailing the relationship
between racism, racial discrimination, and racial
inequalities (Clair and Denis, 2015). The unfortu-
nate resurgence of overt forms of racism appears
to make this task less complicated.

Three Phases in the Study of Racism

As described in Clair and Denis (2015), there are
distinct phases to the study of racism in sociology
that correspond with societal changes, particu-
larly in the United States. The authors differentiate
between two phases in western democracies – the
period before and the period after World War II
(Clair and Denis, 2015: 858). The first phase,
which begins with the emergence of sociology
in the late nineteenth century and concludes

around the US Civil Rights Movement of the
mid-twentieth century, largely examined racism
as overt, individual-level beliefs and behaviors.
The second phase, which the authors outlined
as a post-civil rights period, sought to examine
subtle forms of racism that can manifest at the
individual and group levels, such as implicit bias
and institutional racism. It appears that a new,
third phase in the study of racism has emerged in
western democracies. This phase begins around
the US election of Barack Obama in 2008 and
continues to the present day, when the scholarship
of many critical race scholars, developed in the
1980s, has gained renewed interest and usefulness
in explaining racism. This phase is differentiated
from the first and second phases in that it seeks
to examine subtle forms of racism along with an
explicit effort to understand the resurgence of
overt racism amid the realities of persistent racial
inequality. Thus, the third phase can be under-
stood as initiating a post-postracial turn in soci-
ology that exists not only among critical scholars
but also more mainstream sociological analyses.

Phase One: Imperialism, Slavery, and Jim
Crow Racism

During the Enlightenment, many scientists and
intellectuals in Europe and North America held
openly racist beliefs about the inferiority of
non-European groups. As noted earlier, the use of
biological theories to classify human racial groups
served as the foundation of scientific racism. For
centuries, philosophers and religious leaders
often used religion as a tool to support their
claims of the superiority of Europeans and the
inferiority of other groups (Golash-Boza, 2016).

Starting in the sixteenth century, European
colonizers in North America appropriated indige-
nous peoples’ lands and resources, attempted to
destroy their cultures and governance systems,
and exposed them to fatal diseases (as detailed,
for example, by the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission of Canada). Some Native Ameri-
cans were captured and sold into slavery. During
the seventeenth century, Europeans first brought
enslaved Africans to North America, where they
were subjected to physical and symbolic violence
at the hands of white slaveowners. While slavery
had a primarily white/black dynamic in the

4 R A C I S M

United States, slavery was experienced around
the globe by various populations.

In the United States in particular, the racial-
ization of voluntary immigrant groups from
non-European countries plays a pivotal role in
the history of the study of racism. Upon immi-
grating to the United States in the 1800s, for
example, Chinese immigrants were often paid
less than non-Chinese workers for the same jobs,
exposed to dangerous working conditions, and,
at least in California, racialized as “Indian” and
prohibited from testifying in court (Tahmahkera,
2008). In 1882, amid rising economic and cultural
tension with white Americans, the Chinese Exclu-
sion Act was passed, preventing Chinese persons
from further immigrating to the United States.

In the late nineteenth century, the abolition of
slavery in the United States coincided with the
emergence of sociology as a social scientific disci-
pline. While the nation grappled with the political
incorporation of former noncitizens, including
African slaves and other racialized groups, French
philosopher Auguste Comte’s “scientific study
of society” was taking root in American univer-
sities. While the earliest writings in sociology
were concerned with status groups (Max Weber),
class conflict (Karl Marx), and social solidarity
in an increasingly differentiated society (Émile
Durkheim), few sociologists studied racism as an
object of inquiry. A notable exception was W.E.B.
Du Bois, whose Atlanta School of Sociology
produced numerous ethnographic descriptions
and statistical analyses of racial discrimination,
racism, and racial inequality, particularly with
respect to African Americans (Morris, 2015).
Aside from the work of Du Bois and his col-
leagues, sociological research during the early
twentieth century was often infected with racism.

The mainstream sociological theories of the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
often centered on the assimilation of non-Anglo-
Saxon, non-Protestant European immigrants to
dominant American culture. African Americans
and immigrants from regions beyond Europe
were rarely considered in theories of immigrant
incorporation, or in other core sociological top-
ics, such as crime and deviance. The inattention to
nonwhite racial groups undermined theoretical
assumptions about assimilation, notably scholars’
belief in the inevitable decline of racial/ethnic
prejudice as immigrant groups became upwardly

mobile. Growing non-European immigration
after World War II forced sociologists to realize
the unique role of racism in shaping assimilation
trajectories and persistent racial inequalities
among nonwhite immigrants (e.g., Portes and
Zhou, 1993). Yet, the unique experiences of
indigenous peoples with racism and settler
colonialism remained a glaring lacuna.

Around the mid-twentieth century, scholars
began to examine racism directed at nonwhite
people more systematically. Motivated largely by
the failure of Reconstruction and the institution-
alization of Jim Crow racism after the Civil War,
sociologists examined overt forms of racism that
manifest in individual attitudes and behaviors.
De jure segregation and racial discrimination,
supported by white supremacist public lynchings
and extralegal forms of violence and intimidation
targeted mostly at black Americans, provided
irrefutable evidence of racism among white
Americans. Moreover, during and after World
War II, the confluence of the Holocaust and the
burgeoning Civil Rights Movement sparked even
greater attention to the social problem of racism
worldwide. Some social scientists exposed the
empirically unsupported and destructive nature
of pseudoscientific theories of race and racial
hierarchy (e.g., Ashley Montagu). They criti-
cized imperialist, fascist, and ethnonationalist
ideologies and began to study the social and psy-
chological conditions underlying these ideologies
(e.g., Erich Fromm).

During this period, social scientists devel-
oped methods – such as survey questions about
prejudice on repeated cross-section samples of
the general public – for the systematic study of
racism. However, their examinations were often
limited to overt forms of racism that manifest
in individual attitudes. Some scholars published
comprehensive works on the nature of prejudice
(e.g., Gordon W. Allport), relations among immi-
grant ethnic groups (e.g., Robert E. Park), and
the contradictory commitment of many Ameri-
cans to egalitarianism and racism (e.g., Gunnar
Myrdal). Nevertheless, these same scholars were
reluctant to confront and speak on the role that
white Americans played in the oppression of
black, Latino, Asian, and indigenous peoples
in the United States, especially at the level of
institutional bias. (Some exceptions included E.
Franklin Frazier, Monroe Work, St. Clair Drake,

R A C I S M 5

and Horace R. Cayton – African American schol-
ars affiliated with and inspired by the Chicago
School and Du Bois’s Atlanta School.)

Phase Two: Civil Rights and the Era
of Postracialism

After the Civil Rights Movement, sociologists
increasingly documented a decline in openly
expressed racist attitudes among white Amer-
icans (Bobo, Kluegel, and Smith, 1997). These
observations coincided with the second phase
in the study of racism. Approaches to racism
in this period have attempted to examine the
paradox of continued racial discrimination and
racial inequality despite apparent declines in
overt racism. While some scholars posited that
cultural behaviors or other nonracist factors may
account for contemporary racial inequalities,
others developed more dynamic and system-
level conceptualizations to explicate how racism
reproduces racial inequalities in subtle, often
taken-for-granted ways. These conceptualiza-
tions of racism include “new” racist attitudes (e.g.,
symbolic racism, laissez-faire racism, and color-
blind racism), implicit racial bias, institutional
racism, and everyday experiences of racism (for a
thorough review, see Clair and Denis, 2015). We
briefly summarize these developments, detailing
how these conceptualizations provided evidence
against claims of a postracial society.

According to public opinion polls, the percent-
age of white Americans who said they supported
racial equality in principle increased from less
than 50 percent in the 1940s to more than 90
percent on most measures by the 1980s (Quillian,
2006). Although some analysts attributed this to
an actual decline in racism, others suggested that
it reflected a decrease in the social acceptability of
expressing racist views and that racism had taken
new forms. Why, for example, did majorities of
whites continue to oppose policies designed to
rectify racial inequality (e.g., affirmative action
and reparations)? For Kinder and Sears (1981),
this principle–implementation gap could be
explained by “symbolic racism”: many whites
sincerely believe in western liberal democratic
principles (individualism, egalitarianism, etc.)
but also stereotype blacks as violating these
principles and resent them for it. For Bobo et al.
(1997), “laissez-faire racism” entails persistent

negative stereotyping of nonwhite groups and a
tendency to blame these groups for their social
problems. Unlike symbolic racism, laissez-faire
racism is said to be rooted in perceived racial
group threat, which is “triggered when the dom-
inant group’s sense of entitlement to resources
and privileges appears threatened by subordi-
nate group gains or aspirations” (Denis, 2012:
456). Similarly, “colorblind racism” refers to a
set of frames, styles, and scripts that are used to
explain and justify racial inequality in seemingly
race-neutral terms (Bonilla-Silva, 2010).

Despite the sophisticated survey items, inter-
view techniques, and critical discourse analyses
that provide evidence for these “new racisms,”
some scholars still contended that conservative
political principles, not racism, provoked the
rejection of policies, such as affirmative action.
The evidence for this argument is mixed at best
(see Clair and Denis, 2015), and, regardless of
intentions, resistance to change has helped repro-
duce racial inequality. Moreover, sociologists
continued to identify explicit forms of racism
even among white antiracists (Hughey, 2012),
and especially in backstage (i.e., all-white) set-
tings (Picca and Feagin, 2007). Thus, racism had
not disappeared to the degree that some surveys

Another scholarly explanation for the persis-
tence of racial inequality amid apparent declines
in overt racism is the notion that some persons
might subconsciously possess racial bias. Specif-
ically, implicit bias refers to unconscious beliefs
in the inferiority of certain groups in comparison
to others (see Clair and Denis, 2015: 859–860).
Hundreds of studies using the implicit association
test (IAT), developed by Harvard psychologist
Mahzarin Banaji and colleagues, have found that
most individuals – even those who score low
on measures of explicit prejudice – are faster to
associate positive words and images with whites
and faster to associate negative words and images
with nonwhite groups, especially blacks. Perhaps
most insidious, racialized minorities (not just
whites) sometimes develop implicit stereotypes
and prejudice toward their own racial group
despite articulating explicit beliefs in racial equal-
ity. Researchers have debated whether implicit
bias can impact one’s judgments and actions.
Some studies have found significant associations
between implicit bias and discriminatory

6 R A C I S M

behavior. However, critics question the relia-
bility of the IAT (the same person’s score can
change over a short time) and emphasize that the
correlation between implicit bias and discrimina-
tory behavior is weak (e.g., Blanton et al., 2015).
To the extent that implicit bias matters, more
attention must be paid to its sociological roots,
including how the media and other institutions
help shape both implicit and explicit attitudes.

While social psychologists grappled with the
changing nature of racial attitudes and implicit
bias, that is, individual-level racism, macroso-
ciological analyses focused increasingly on
institutional racism. A term coined by Stokely
Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in 1967,
institutional racism refers to the differential
treatment of persons due to their race in orga-
nizational and policy contexts (see Clair and
Denis, 2015: 860–861). Institutional analyses
explain racial inequality in terms of the poli-
cies, practices, and norms of organizations and
institutions, such as the labor market or the
nation-state. Institutional racism can be overt, as
in a formal policy of excluding job applicants of a
given race. Since 1876, Canada’s Indian Act has
imposed a definition of “Indians” on indigenous
peoples and restricted their political autonomy.
Social programs on First Nations reserves are so
underfunded that in 2016 the Canadian Human
Rights Tribunal concluded that the federal gov-
ernment systemically discriminates against First
Nations children. More often, institutional racism
is the byproduct of seemingly race-neutral laws
or policies, and it is often used to explain unequal
outcomes within organizations absent evidence
of explicit racial intent. Unequal policing and
sentencing in the criminal justice system, for
instance, has collateral consequences for hous-
ing, employment, and health – consequences
with worse effects for stigmatized racial/ethnic
minorities (Asad and Clair, 2018).

During this period, scholars also centered the
voices and experiences of racial/ethnic minori-
ties, affording insight into their own definitions of
racism (see Lamont, 2018). Often rooted in phe-
nomenological and microinteractionist traditions
in sociology, this research examined how expe-
riences of racism varied between racial groups at
the national and global levels (Essed, 1991), across
class strata within racial groups (Feagin and Sikes,
1994), and across other intersecting categories

such as gender and sexuality (Collins, 2015). The
intimate relationships between white supremacy,
settler colonialism, capitalism, and heteropatri-
archy began to be unpacked. Much of this work
has been spearheaded by grassroots intellectuals
from racially (and otherwise) marginalized com-
munities. Moreover, this research has revealed
the resources and strategies that marginalized
racial groups have at their disposal to resist and
perhaps even dismantle racism. As indicated in
the social movements literature, everyday indi-
viduals, policy-makers, and social activists play
a crucial role in creating narratives, policies, and
tools meant to dismantle racism and improve the
worth and dignity of stigmatized racial groups
(Lamont, 2018).

Phase Three: The Resurgence of Overt
Racism and an Era of Post-Postracialism

Whereas most sociologists studying racism in
the post-civil rights era have focused on debat-
ing and explaining subtle forms of racism, a
growing number of sociologists – many drawing
from critical race traditions – argue that racism,
whether overt or covert, is an enduring feature of
society worthy of sustained inquiry. Critical race
approaches to racism and racial inequality that
were once on the margins of mainstream sociol-
ogy are increasingly moving to the center in the
wake of sociopolitical events in the United States
and abroad. Notable developments in the field
include the establishment of the journal Sociology
of Race and Ethnicity, an official publication of
the American Sociological Association, and a
special issue of the British Journal of Sociology
dedicated to critically analyzing how racism,
sexism, and elitism shaped, and are reflected by,
the US election of Donald Trump and the Brexit
vote. These developments constitute the third
phase in the study of racism.

While overt racism did not disappear in the
post-civil rights period (1970s–2000s) (see
Hughey, 2012; Picca and Feagin, 2007), it has
become increasingly renormalized within the
political mainstream. Some observers have high-
lighted the racism undergirding the ideology
of the Tea Party movement, a right-wing and
populist coalition of the Republican Party that
advocates for lower taxes and less governmental

R A C I S M 7

regulation. While sociologists and political scien-
tists have long noted how support for such policies
is often associated with racial prejudice (Bobo,
Kluegel, and Smith, 1997; Kinder and Sears,
1981), recent analyses suggest that Obama’s elec-
tion solidified this relationship. Yadon and Piston
(2018), for example, find that although preju-
diced attitudes appeared relatively stable among
a sample of white voters during the Obama pres-
idency, these attitudes became more associated
with whites’ lack of support for affirmative action
and government aid to African Americans.

Sociologists have proposed several explana-
tions for this resurgence of overt racism, as well
as its consequences for racial discrimination and
inequality. These explanations include: (1) the
shifting racial demographics in the United States
and in Europe; (2) the reinforcement of moral
boundaries between whites and marginalized
racial, immigrant, and religious groups; and
(3) perceptions of increased economic volatil-
ity among whites. These explanations hinge on
Blumer’s (1958) group position theory, which
posits that perceptions of group threat are at the
root of racial prejudice. Some estimates suggest
that, in a few decades, whites will no longer con-
stitute a numerical majority in the United States.
In an experimental study that tested whites’
reactions to a projected future in which whites
constitute less than 50 percent of the population,
white Americans and Canadians felt a sense
of group threat and expressed anger and fear
toward racial and ethnic minorities (Outten et al.,
2012). Awareness of the projected shift in racial
demographics has also been found to increase
whites’ political conservatism, an effect mediated
by perceived racial group-status threat (Craig and
Richeson, 2014).

Some scholars argue, moreover, that Donald
Trump’s divisive rhetoric within his electoral
speeches blamed immigrant and other groups
for the (white) working class’s declining social
and moral status, strengthening boundaries
against Muslims, Mexicans, and other nonwhite
groups (Lamont, Park, and Ayala-Hurtado,
2017). Whites’ fear of their declining social status
and worth in an increasingly pluralistic society
has contributed to the establishment of many
white supremacist movements (McDermott
and Samson, 2005). As with the rise of white
supremacist groups in the United States and

Germany in the early to mid-twentieth century,
these groups continue to operate under the belief
that they are superior to other racial, ethnic, and
religious groups.

Third, some scholars have attributed the rise
in white supremacy in the United States and
in Britain to rising economic inequality and to
lower- and middle-class whites’ perceived sense
of competition with racial minorities for jobs and
other resources (Bobo, 2017). Others contend
that the widespread emphasis on working-class
whites’ economic vulnerability downplays and
conceals the vital role that race played within
the US election and the Brexit referendum, given
that a majority of whites voted for Trump and
two-thirds of Trump’s supporters made more
than the median household income of $50,000
(Bhambra, 2017). Indeed, whites across the eco-
nomic spectrum may experience a sense of group
threat and seek to protect their privileges by
supporting right-wing policies and politicians.

The resurgence of overt forms of racism has,
perhaps, made the task of detailing the rela-
tionship between racism, racial discrimination,
and racial inequality less difficult in this post-
postracial era. Yet, critical race scholars and
historically attuned sociologists have continued
to examine how ostensibly race-neutral proce-
dures, policies, and practices reproduce racial
inequalities alongside more explicit forms of
racism. These scholars reveal how structures of
racial oppression can morph over time in ways
that maintain the perceived legitimacy of racial
inequalities (Golash-Boza, 2016). For instance,
Alexander (2012) argues that racialized mass
incarceration has replaced Jim Crow as the latest
system of racialized social control targeted mostly
at African Americans. Despite (and perhaps even
because of ) the return of overt racism, main-
stream sociological research on racial inequality
remains largely hesitant to implicate contem-
porary racial discrimination and racism absent
identification of racial bias through experimen-
tal techniques or cross-sectional statistics that
seek to control for all “nonracial” variables that
might contribute to racial inequality. Critical race
scholars largely view such an approach as missing
the point; even if racism is not an immediate
cause of racial inequality, it is almost certainly a
fundamental cause (see Asad and Clair, 2018).
These debates, coupled with more sophisticated

8 R A C I S M

and creative conceptual and analytic techniques
for measuring racism, undergird this latest phase
in the study of racism.

Challenges and Future Directions

Sociological approaches to racism have changed
with the times. In the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, the study of racism largely
reflected the racist beliefs of social and natural
scientists. As the twentieth century progressed
and evidence of the destructiveness of racial prej-
udice reared its ugly head, scholars increasingly
developed techniques to measure individual-
level racial attitudes. Following the Civil Rights
Movement, an era of purported postracialism –
marked by scholarly attempts to assess the rela-
tionship between subtle forms of racism and
racial inequality– took hold within sociological
research. Today, sociologists continue to study
subtle forms of racism while paying greater
attention to critical theories of race, many of
which predicted the resurgence – or documented
the continued presence – of overt racism. The
current sociopolitical moment presents pressing
challenges and opportunities for conceptual
clarification and methodological innovation.

Current debates among scholars of race and
racism include:

1. Whether, how, and to what extent racism
explains contemporary political upheavals
across western democracies.

2. How racism has developed and interacted
with capitalism, colonialism, heteropatri-
archy, and other systems of oppression across
various contexts.

3. How to best explain the resurgence of overt
racism and the degree to which such racism
is implicated in struggles over the allocation
of scarce material and symbolic goods.

4. What strategies (individual and collective)
are most effective for combating racism and
the perceived threats to dignity felt among
both the targets and perpetrators of racism.

We argue that, although the analysis of whiteness
(including white supremacy as well as diversity
within the white race) has increased in recent
decades, it is important that social scientists take
an in-depth approach to the study of whiteness

and its consequences, especially given the revival
of overtly white supremacist movements. Revisit-
ing core texts on racial prejudice and group con-
flict (e.g., Herbert Blumer, Hubert Blalock), and
on racism, especially within the pre-civil rights
era (e.g., W.E.B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon), may
provide useful tools to help frame racism within
contemporary society. To develop a comprehen-
sive understanding of racism, sociologists should
continue to use a variety of methods, including
in-depth interviews, historical analyses, quantita-
tive analyses, and ethnographies – methods which
each allow for different lenses through which we
can understand the causes and consequences of
racism. Additionally, social scientists should seek
innovative media for analyzing racism, including
social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram,
and Twitter. Given the in-depth engagement
with interdisciplinary approaches to the study
of racism within fields such as African Ameri-
can studies and indigenous studies, sociologists
should engage more with other disciplines to
further improve sociological research on racism.

While several hypotheses for the resurgence
of white supremacy exist (see Phase Three
above), they all contain one crucial commonality:
whites’ collective fear of a decline in their racial
group status. Although the social acceptance of
explicit forms of racism has shifted over time,
racism (whether subtle or overt) has persisted
for centuries and does not appear to be “leaving”
anytime soon. An important takeaway from the
recent elections, hate crimes, and other political
events is that some radical right-wing supporters
and white nationalists are middle-class persons –
some of them college educated– who may conceal
their political and racial views at the workplace,
school, and in other areas of their everyday
lives (Bhambra, 2017; McDermott and Samson,
2005). Thus, not only working-class whites or
those labeled as neo-Nazis, but also middle- and
upper-class whites are complicit in the current
state of racism. To further develop sociological
discourse on racism, scholars must thoroughly
address the resurgence of overt racism and its
implications for marginalized groups worldwide,
while continuing to critically analyze subtle forms
of racism, which remains a deeply entrenched
structural problem.

R A C I S M 9

SEE ALSO: Boundaries (Racial/Ethnic);
Ethnic, Racial, and Nationalist Movements;
Intersectionality; Race; Race and Ethnic Politics;
Racial Hierarchy; Racism, Structural and
Institutional; Social Exclusion; Whiteness


Alexander, M. (2012) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incar-
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Asad, A.L. and Clair, M. (2018) Racialized legal status
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Bhambra, G.K. (2017) Brexit, Trump, and “method-
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position. The Pacific Sociological Review, 1, 3–7.

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tions on culture, sociology, and the 2016 US presi-
dential election. British Journal of Sociology, 68 (S1),

Bobo, L.D., Kluegel, J.R., and Smith, R.A. (1997)
Laissez-faire racism: the crystallization of a “kinder,
gentler” anti-black ideology, in Racial Attitudes in the
1990s: Continuity and Change (ed. J.K. Martin and
S.A. Tuch), Greenwood, Westport, CT, pp. 14–44.

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2010) Racism without Racists: Color-
Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality
in America, Rowman & Littlefield, New York.

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International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral
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dilemmas. Annual Review of Sociology, 41 (1), 1–20.

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Making Identities in a Changing World, Pine Forge
Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Craig, M.A. and Richeson, J.A. (2014) On the precipice
of a “majority-minority” America: perceived status
threat from the racial demographic shift affects white
Americans’ political ideology. Psychological Science,
25 (6), 1189–1197.

Denis, J.S. (2012) Transforming meanings and group
positions: tactics and framing in Anishinaabe – white
relations in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. Ethnic
and Racial Studies, 35 (3), 453–470.

Essed, P. (1991) Understanding Everyday Racism: An
Interdisciplinary Theory, SAGE, Newbury Park, CA.

Feagin, J. and Sikes, M.P. (1994) Living with Racism: The
Black Middle-Class Experience, Beacon Press, Boston,

Golash-Boza, T. (2016) A critical and comprehensive
sociological theory of race and racism. Sociology of
Race and Ethnicity, 2 (2), 129–141.

Hughey, M. (2012) White Bound: Nationalists,
Antiracists, and the Shared Meanings of Race,
Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.

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tics: symbolic racism versus racial threats to the good
life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40
(3), 414–431.

Lamont, M. (2018) Addressing recognition gaps: de-
stigmatization and the reduction of inequality.
American Sociological Review, 83 (3), 419–444.

Lamont, M., Park B.Y., and Ayala-Hurtado, E. (2017)
Trump’s electoral speeches and his appeal to the
American white working class. British Journal of Soci-
ology, 68 (S1), S153–S180.

Levin, B. (2017) Hate crime analysis and forecast
for 2016/2017. Center for the Study of Hate and
Extremism. Available at
Report-PDF-1 (accessed November 28, 2018).

Maghbouleh, N. (2017) The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian
Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race, Stanford
University Press, Stanford, CA.

McDermott, M. and Samson, F. (2005) White racial and
ethnic identity in the United States. Annual Review of
Sociology, 31 (1), 245–261.

Monk, E.P., Jr. (2014) Skin tone stratification among
black Americans, 2001–2003. Social Forces, 92 (4),

Morris, A. (2015) The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. DuBois
and the Birth of Modern Sociology, University of Cal-
ifornia Press, Berkeley, CA.

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cia, A.L. (2012) Feeling threatened about the future:
whites’ emotional reactions to anticipated ethnic
demographic changes. Personality and Social Psychol-
ogy Bulletin, 38 (1), 14–25.

Picca, L.H. and Feagin, J.R. (2007) Two-Faced Racism:
Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage. Routledge,

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tion: segmented assimilation and its variants. Annals
of the American Academy of Political and Social Sci-
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racial prejudice and discrimination. Annual Review
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the Making of the American Working Class, Verso,

1 0 R A C I S M

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pp. 142–155.

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anti-black attitudes after Obama’s presidency.
Politics, Groups, and Identities. doi: 10.1080/

Further Readings

Bell, D.A. (1992) Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The
Permanence of Racism, Basic Books, New York.

Crenshaw, K. (1991) Mapping the margins: intersec-
tionality, identity politics, and violence against
women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43,

DiAngelo, R., Dyson, M.E. and Landon, A. (2018)
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to
Talk about Racism, Books on Tape, New York.

Du Bois, W.E.B. (1998) Black Reconstruction in America:
1860–1880, Free Press, New York.

Fanon, F. (1952) Black Skin, White Masks, Grove Press,
New York.

Mills, C.W. (1997) The Racial Contract, Cornell Univer-
sity Press, New York.

Omi, M. and Winant, H. (1994) Racial Formation in the
United States, 2nd edn, Routledge, New York.

Robertson, D. (2015) Invisibility in the color-blind
era: examining legitimized racism against indigenous
peoples. American Indian Quarterly, 39 (2), 113–153.

African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter
Volume 15
Issue 1 Spring 2015

Article 1

Spring 2015

Historic Black Lives Matter: Archaeology as
Activism in the 21st Century
Kelley F. Deetz
University of Virginia, [email protected]

Ellen Chapman
College of William & Mary, [email protected]

Ana Edwards
Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, [email protected]

Phil Wilayto
Virginia Defender, [email protected]

Follow this and additional works at:

Part of the African American Studies Commons, African Languages and Societies Commons,
American Art and Architecture Commons, American Material Culture Commons, Archaeological
Anthropology Commons, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Commons, History Commons,
and the Social and Cultural Anthropology Commons

This Articles, Essays, and Reports is brought to you for free and open access by [email protected] Amherst. It has been accepted for inclusion in
African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter by an authorized administrator of [email protected] Amherst. For more information, please contact
[email protected]

Recommended Citation
Deetz, Kelley F.; Chapman, Ellen; Edwards, Ana; and Wilayto, Phil (2015) “Historic Black Lives Matter: Archaeology as Activism in
the 21st Century,” African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter: Vol. 15: Iss. 1, Article 1.
Available at:

mailto:[email protected]

Historic Black Lives Matter:

Archaeology as Activism in the 21st Century
A Four-Part Series

Issue 1

Spring 2015

Location: Richmond, Virginia

Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz
Co-Editor Africa n Diaspora Archaeolog y Newsletter

Research Associate, President’s Commission on Slavery and the University
University of Virg inia

Guest Editors:

Ellen Chapman, Doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the College of William &
Mary; Co-Founder, RVA Archaeology

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

Phil Wilayto, Editor of The Virginia Defender

Don’t Call it a Comeback, We’ve Been Here for Years:

Reintroducing the African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter

Kelley Deetz

“Stumbling is not falling.” 
— Malcolm X

The African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter is celebrating twenty-one years of scholarly

activity. What began as a list-serve in 1994 has since hosted multiple formats and led the

field in discourse on African Diaspora archaeology. In 2012 the then ADAN editor

Christopher Fennell established the Journal for African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage and

handed the ADAN to the current co-editors: Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Christopher Barton,

and myself (Kelley Deetz). We successfully published a couple of issues, however, we

grappled with two significant issues that hindered our momentum.

First, the transferring of the ADAN from the University of Illinois to the University of

Massachusetts, Amherst took longer than we expected. The staff at UMASS worked tirelessly


Deetz et al.: Historic Black Lives Matter

Published by ScholarWork[email protected] Amherst, 2015

for over 300 hours making sure the transition was seamless. Their labor and skills are greatly

appreciated by the ADAN editorial team and we are grateful for their help. The second,

more challenging issue is related to a larger and more complicated problem. The academic

job market is increasingly competitive and scholars need peer-reviewed articles. The ADAN

has always been somewhat liminal in that sense. The editors provided feedback and

occasionally rejected submissions. Nevertheless, ADAN has never been a traditional journal.

When we took over the newsletter in early 2012 it was self-sufficient and we solicited and

received enough submissions to publish regularly. It was almost effortless.

By late 2012 the vast majority of our solicitations were kindly turned down for a better

option. Fennell’s peer-reviewed journal essentially replaced ADAN and became an instant

success by providing a peer-reviewed option for the same scholars we relied on for almost

two decades. Our continuous base was gone. We struggled to remain active, rethought the

purpose of the newsletter, and even decided to have a rolling submission deadline with the

hopes of receiving more articles. The problem became brutally clear; our base was gone and

no matter how we framed the ADAN it wasn’t enough for someone’s c.v.

New Directions

After much thought and dialog among the editors, I suggested something that my co-editors

enthusiastically supported. We are returning to our roots. The African Diaspora

Archaeology Newsletter will be an active newsletter. We will begin publishing quarterly again,

highlighting themes of our choosing. Each editor will publish an issue with appointed guest

co-editors. The thrust of the ADAN will focus on specific topics related to “Archaeology,

Politics, and Race” and will feature sites and/or topics that have brought or need significant

attention. Each newsletter will have an introduction written by an ADAN editor, who will

contextualize the topic, and guest co-editors, who will discuss their particular roles in the

theme, and help provide links to reports, media coverage, and historical resources dealing

with the given subject. This will be an active newsletter in a formal sense, where we will vet

arranged thematic news coupled with archaeology reports and academic insight. The ADAN

will weave together grey literature, social media links, theses, conference papers, and other

work not typically published in traditional formats. We want to bring attention to areas of


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

research and activism that may go unseen outside of the local sphere or missed by those

unable to attend conferences. Lastly, there will also be a section called The Thread, which

will help connect each issue to the next by providing a platform to analyze some of the more

contemporary issues that are related to ADAN but not specifically archaeology.

Issue One

With our new charge in place I couldn’t think of a better opening theme than the recent

uproar in Richmond, Virginia. The former capital of the Confederacy remains a hotbed for

mythical histories, community activism, endangered sites, and archaeological importance.

This city is home to museums dedicated to both sides of the Civil War and to the

descendants of both free and enslaved. Richmond has a spirit steeped in history, and one

that represents every imaginable perspective on past and present race relations. The

establishment of the Richmond Slave Trail helped render the historical significance of the city,

while development continues to push against the sites related to what was one of the largest

slave auctioning districts in the United States.

Between April 12, 2011 and April 9, 2015 our nation celebrated the countless anniversaries

related to the Civil War. This sesquicentennial brought the topic of slavery back into the

mainstream with films like Django Unchained and the Oscar Award wining Twelve Years a Slave.

These movies came at a ripe moment for racial discourse. The election of President Obama

in 2008 started a chapter in our nation’s history that brought the topic of race and the myth

of “post-racial America” to the front stage. The “New Civil Rights Movement” launched

with #Blacklivesmatter campaigns and has drawn international attention to our long and

shameful history of racism and violence in the United States. This sesquicentennial provided

a revived platform for the “perfect storm” to discuss issues of race and repair.

The charge of the New Civil Rights Movement addresses a long history of institutionalized

abuse towards Black folks. Black bodies have been owned and abused by the right of law

since the first slave codes were put into place. In 1705 the Virginia Assembly confirmed a

slave code stating:


Deetz et al.: Historic Black Lives Matter

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And if any slave resist his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order,
correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be
accounted felony; but the master, owner, and every such other person so giving
correction, shall be free and acquit of all punishment and accusation for the same, as
if such incident had never happened.1

These codes legalized and normalized brutality, and the ghosts of these slave codes are built

into the fabric of this nation. Archaeologists and historians have a responsibility to remind

the public that these narratives are not new. Mr. Eric Garner was not the first Black man to

be murdered in public and have his killer “free and acquit of all punishment and accusation

for the same, as if such incident had never happened.” How do we as scholars join this

conversation? What role do archaeologists have in these discussions based mostly in social

science and history? How can our work inform, provoke, and inspire change?

Institutionalized white supremacy and power are clearly seen throughout history and in our

current society. It is our job to make these connections and educate the public through

multiple forms of intellectually engaged activism. The ADAN is our stage. This newsletter is

a platform for those of us who dedicated our lives and/or careers to addressing historical

and contemporary racisms through academic interrogation. The African Diaspora is broad

and rich with history, and many of us are making such histories now.

This issue is dedicated to the estimated 300,000 enslaved folks who were sold, bought, and

tortured in the Richmond Market, to their families who lost them to the Deep South, and to

their descendants and advocates who choose to both remember and remind us of this history.

The following pieces are assembled to bring light to the ongoing efforts of memorialization

and preservation in Richmond, Virginia.

“I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes

that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.” –

Malcolm X


1 William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of
the Legislature, in the Year 1619, (Philadelphia: R. & W. & G. Bartow, 1823), 3:459.


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

The Significance of Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom:
Why it’s the wrong place for a baseball stadium

Ana Edwards & Phil Wilayto

Image 1. Lumpkin’s Jail” Archaeology Site, Shockoe Bottom: Protest and interpretive signage mark

the site known by 19th century Blacks as the “devil’s half-acre”, April 8, 2014. Photo courtesy of Ana

Edwards, Defenders’ Sacred Ground Project, April 8, 2014

Most people in Richmond know that Virginia was long associated with slavery. Few,

however, are aware of the central role the capital city played in that “peculiar institution.”


In the early days of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, African men, women and children who

survived the horrors of the Middle Passage were brought by ship up the James River,

unloaded at Manchester Docks and forced to walk to the slave jails of Shockoe Bottom. This

is the origin of the Richmond Slave Trail, also referred to as the Trail of Enslaved Africans.

Richmond’s role in this trade actually was relatively minor compared to other areas,

particularly the port city of Charleston, South Carolina. Other cities had their periods as

leading entry ports, including Boston and New York.


Deetz et al.: Historic Black Lives Matter

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But Shockoe Bottom later took on a much larger role: instead of receiving human cargo

from overseas, it instead functioned increasingly as the place of departure for enslaved

Africans being sold from Virginia to plantations in the Deep South. 

One big reason for the change was the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804. This anti-colonial

struggle, the largest and most successful slave rebellion in the Western hemisphere,

frightened the U.S. political establishment to its core. Political leaders were all for slavery,

but fearful of the growing numbers of Black people in the country relative to the white

population. The result was that in 1807 Congress banned the importing of Africans, with the

ban taking effect the following year. (Virginia itself had banned importation in 1778.)

At the same time, three other things were happening. The world market for machine-made

linen was expanding, driving up the value of cotton. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the

cotton gin, which greatly facilitated the harvesting of cotton. And with Napoleon

abandoning his dreams of a New World empire after being driven from Haiti, France in

1803 sold the vast territory of Louisiana to the U.S. for a song.

So at the same time that the importation of captured Africans became illegal, the demand for

slave labor in the Deep South had greatly increased as new cotton plantations were

This led m any plantation ow ners in V irginia and M aryland, w here ye ars of

cotton growing had exhausted the soil, to realize there was more money to be made in

selling human beings than in growing cotton. And as the demand rose, supply had to rise to

meet it.

Virginia became what was known as a “breeder state” — human beings were literally grown

as a cash crop. One successful entrepreneur bragged that his plantations had produced 6,000

children for sale.

And so the great trading center of Richmond came into its own. By the time the Civil War

broke out in 1861, the downtown area known as Shockoe Bottom was the largest slave-

trading district in the United States north of New Orleans. And more important than its size

was that Richmond was now the hub, the fountainhead, of the U.S. slave trade.

In the three decades before the end of the Civil War in 1865, between 300,000 and 350,000

people of African descent were sold out of Virginia, most of them passing through the


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

auction houses of Shockoe Bottom. In the decade from 1830 to 1840 alone, it is estimated

that between 10,000 and 11,000 people were sold each year from Richmond and transported

by ship, railroad or by foot, fastened together in “coffles,” to the sweltering fields of their

new owners. 

In the process, the district bounded by Main, Marshall, 14th and 19th streets became one of

the great wealth-producing areas of the South. And it wasn’t only slave traders who plied

their trade there. An enterprise this large required many skills.

The heart of the business, of course, was made up of the traders themselves, both formal

corporations and freelance individuals. Many of these had their offices and homes north and

south of Broad Street between 17th and 18th streets.

But slaves also had to be held somewhere secure. Lumpkin’s Jail, the best known of the

slave-holding businesses, was located just west and north of the present Main Street Station.

(This area, known as the “Devil’s Half Acre,” later housed the origins of Virginia Union

University.) Omohundro’s Jail sat at the southeast corner of what is now 17th and East

Broad streets. William Goodwin’s jail, at the corner of 17th and East Grace streets, for a

night held Solomon Northup, author of the book “Twelve Years a Slave,” now an Oscar-

winning movie. Other jails were scattered around the district, often attached to the traders’


Shockoe Bottom held some 40-50 auction houses, most of them along 15th Street, known at

the time as Wall Street. Other auctions were held in places like the Exchange, St. Charles and

City hotels, the Metropolitan and Odd Fellow’s halls and Bell Tavern, located a block or so

west of 15th. In addition, commodity brokers, who sold anything, including people, had their

offices along East Cary Street from west of 15th to about 19th streets. The town whipping

post likely stood in what is now the 17th Street Farmer’s Market. 

For those who didn’t survive the Passage, or who died from their labors in the city, there

was the municipal cemetery just north of what is now East Broad Street between 15th and

16th streets. In the center of that dismal place was the town gallows, where the great slave

rebellion leader Gabriel was executed on Oct. 10, 1800. Abandoned around 1816, the site

was variously used for the city jail and the dog pound. In the early 1970s it became a


Deetz et al.: Historic Black Lives Matter

Published by [email protected] Amherst, 2015

commercial parking lot, used by students and faculty at VCU Health Centers. After a

decade-long community struggle, what is now known as the African Burial Ground was

reclaimed from its latest owner, Virginia Commonwealth University, a state institution.

Then there were the offices of the many businesses that serviced the slave trade: law firms,

insurance companies and the shipping and railroad lines. One of those railroads developed

into the present-day CSX Corporation. To help attract the trade of the slave dealers, it

offered free transportation for children. 

There were blacksmith shops and dry goods stores, including the original Thalhimer’s one-

room establishment. There were the clothing houses that made sure human beings waiting to

be sold were properly dressed for viewing.

And there were the newspapers. The media wasn’t located in Shockoe Bottom itself, but the

direct predecessors of today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch contributed by announcing the

auctions, complete with the number, ages and genders of the “products” to be sold. They

also assisted the slave owners by publishing notices of runaway slaves.

In this period, selling people was the most profitable trade in Virginia, and in one way or

another most of the city’s merchants and professionals found ways to take part. For

example, famed attorney Patrick Henry did legal work for Thomas Prosser, who owned


The trade in slaves and the profits from slave labor built the fortunes that allowed a

privileged few to rise to the highest political offices in the country and later assume the

political leadership of what was to become the capital of the Confederacy — the political

expression of the rule of the slaveholders and their merchant allies.

But in addition to the suffering and humiliation that Shockoe Bottom represents, there is

also a story of incredible courage. From Gabriel’s Rebellion of 1800 to the successful mutiny

on the slave ship Creole in 1841 to the thousands of instances of individual defiance, this

tradition of continuous resistance to injustice and brutality is a tribute to the deep resilience

of the human spirit.


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

And there is another reason why present-day Shockoe Bottom is so ill-suited for a

stadium. In many ways it was the crucible where the present-day African-American

community was forged.

As stated above, in the 30 years before 1865 around a third of a million people were sold

from Virginia, most of them out of Shockoe Bottom. By 1865 there were fewer than 4.5

million Black people in the entire country. That means that, all across the United States, as

well as in Canada and Mexico, most African-Americans have some ancestors who passed

through the auction houses and slave jails of Shockoe Bottom.

The slave prison on Goree Island off the coast of Senegal in West Africa is recognized as a

sacred place for African-Americans. It is the bit of land where many of their ancestors were

held before their final journey from the Motherland. In a similar way, Shockoe Bottom is

that bit of land where many of the ancestors were held before their forced journey South to

lives of desperate servitude.

This is why Shockoe Bottom has significance far beyond Virginia. There may be no place in

the United States that hold more meaning for Black Americans. Just as those of European

descent can travel to the Statue of Liberty to see where their ancestors first stepped ashore in

the New World and find new opportunities, so Americans of African descent should be able

to travel to Richmond to see where their ancestors were forced to travel throughout the

country to labor for others.

Because of all this, this small piece of land does not belong to Richmonders alone. It belongs

to the whole country and especially to all those people whose ancestors once stood there,

bound and chained, forced to watch while their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers

and even their own children were sold away to lives of torment. 


Deetz et al.: Historic Black Lives Matter

Published by [email protected] Amherst, 2015

Image 2 & 3: Two of ten temporary historic markers placed for a walking tour of Shockoe Bottom
called “Footprints of the Slave Trade”, held on April 3, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Liberation Day

and designed to convey the scale and normalcy of the trade and the city as a slave society.

Photo and markers by John Moser Productions.


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom has the potential to become an educational center of

international significance. Properly preserved, this small area that once held such cold,

commercial brutality could become a life-affirming place of study, reflection and meditation.

Like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., it could become a place

where people of all backgrounds gather and resolve to never again allow such inhuman

cruelty. It could become a place of understanding, of healing, of reconciliation born of a

country finally facing the reality of its origins, finally resolving to make right what has been

so wrong for so long. 


And yet this is the area that Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, developers like the multi-

millionaire H. Louis Salomonsky (who famously went to prison in 2003 for bribing a

member of City Council) and the owners of the Richmond Flying Squirrels AA baseball

team along with their supporters among Richmond’s present-day merchant class have now

targeted for a baseball stadium.

Shockoe Bottom is exactly the wrong place for this commercial project. We do not have the

right to allow that kind of desecration to compound all the wrongs already committed there.

What was once a place of horror and sorrow must be restored materially and spiritually, so

that it can play its rightful role as a reminder of what once was, and what can never be

allowed to be again.

© 2015 by Defenders Publications, Inc.


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Richmond’s Archaeology of the African Diaspora:
Unseen Knowledge, Untapped Potential

Ellen Chapman

While most of the visible city of Richmond dates back to the mid-nineteenth century at the

earliest, its landscape been shaped by a much longer history. The written records of

Richmond reveals that it has been a critical location during many different periods due to its

placement on the landscape, natural resources, significance for riverine and overland travel

and transport, political dominance, and economic and industrial strength – a strength that

was substantially expanded through the city’s profit from the 19th century domestic slave

trade. Taking a longer view, the landscape of the Falls of the James River, around which the

historic towns of Richmond and Manchester were founded, had been an important

habitation, subsistence, and political boundary region for Virginia native people since at least

the Middle Archaic period. By the Woodland Period, the Falls were a contested region

claimed by both the Siouan-speaking Monacans of the Virginia interior and the Algonquian-

speaking Powhatan chiefdom of the Chesapeake (Hantman 1990). Like several other river

cities located along the Fall Line of the Chesapeake Bay watershed (including Petersburg and

Fredericksburg), trade and subsistence along the river have defined life here for several


The corporate roots of the state of Virginia, through the founding of Jamestown by the

Virginia Company in 1607, have been well documented (Kelso 2006). So too has been the

arrival of the first Africans to Hampton in 1619, and the complex origins of enslaved and

unfree labor in the colony, which included white bondservants, enslaved Africans, and native

people with enslaved or servant status (Sluiter 1997, Campbell 2011, 60–85). However, much

of the historical trajectory of the African Diaspora in Richmond has been hidden or

misunderstood until recent efforts, and the contribution of the city to the domestic slave

trade has only been investigated in the past few decades.

Although the site of early colonial exploration by central figures such as John Smith and

Christopher Newport, Richmond did not become a focal point until after the Revolutionary

War, when the town of just 600 became the new Virginia capitol in 1780. By between


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

roughly 1830 and 1860, the city had developed into one of the largest hubs of the domestic

slave trade in the United States (Takagi 2000). It was also one of the earliest centers of

Southern industrial power, was well connected along a number of transport routes, and was

home to Tredegar Ironworks, one of the most significant iron foundries in America. These

factors, along with the city’s close proximity to the front lines of the Eastern Theater of the

war, resulted in the capitol of the Confederate States of America being moved to Richmond

early in the war.

The war substantially reshaped the city, and caused it to swell in population and activity. The

city’s warehouses were repurposed as hospitals and Confederate storage, and the population

roughly doubled between 1861 and 1863, causing overcrowding and famine among its

inhabitants (McPherson 1988, 617). With Belle Isle, Castle Thunder, and Libby Prison, the

city also held substantial prisons for the Union enlisted men and officers. In contrast to the

Revolutionary War, when Richmond was not substantially damaged by the hostilities, the

Civil War had a fiery conclusion in Richmond. On April 3rd 1865, retreating Confederate

forces set fire to downtown warehouses and the bridges spanning the James River between

Richmond and Manchester, and occupying Union forces (led by troops that included six

regiments of United States Colored Troops) entered the city. This dramatic day was

celebrated as Liberation Day by the city’s black population for many years, and has recently

enjoyed a resurgence.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Reconstruction and the city’s critical transport and

industrial infrastructure resulted in considerable financial investment and expansion in the

city. The prominent black neighborhood of Jackson-Ward became a hub of black capitalism

and political leadership, home to figures like Maggie Walker, John Mitchell Jr., and Rosa

Bowser. African-American garden cemeteries were constructed in Richmond’s East End to

meet demand for elite cemeteries equivalent to Hollywood Cemetery for white Richmonders

(Davis 2000).


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New Developments for Old Archaeology

Notably, though the city has been defined through its complex history and considerable

historical nostalgia (particularly significant for the Lost Cause mythology), the city’s

archaeological resources have received comparatively little research focus and preservation.

Local archaeologists have described local resistance to archaeological investigations from a

variety of sources; during the 1980s, L. Daniel Mouer described that “local companies,

Richmond’s government, property owners, even preservation groups like Historic Richmond

Foundation don’t have or want to pay the required costs [for archaeology]” and that the city

had refused Mouer permission to perform self-funded excavations in city parks (Lazarus

1984). This resistance, along with substantial projects that were never completed, has left an

indelible impact on the accessibility of sites in the city for archaeological and material culture

research. To some extent this resistance to archaeological reviews continues today. In 2013, a

city project to develop 17 acres of state land for a training camp for the Washington D.C.

National Football League team was preceded by mere days of archaeological trenching and

excavation, despite being mandated by the Virginia Environmental Impacts Report Act, and

was cut short with little notice when the construction company wanted to proceed (Pilot

2013; Dovi 2014).

However, recent events have drawn increasing recognition for the richness of Richmond’s

archaeological record and its vulnerability. A new community archaeology organization, co-

founded by myself, Dr. Kim Allen, and Dr. Terry Brock, is working to advocate for better

understanding, interpretation, and preservation of archaeology in the city. The catalyzing

event for this group, called RVA Archaeology, was the proposed Revitalize RVA

development. This city-financed project planned construction of a baseball stadium, hotel,

grocery store, slavery heritage museum, and other projects downtown on an eight-acre parcel

of Shockoe Bottom. After Brock wrote a blogpost pointing out the extremely high

archaeological potential of the site, the city contracted with engineering firm Greeley and

Hansen to conduct a four-month archaeological investigation on the site. However, staff in

the Mayor’s Office also relocated the stadium in order to evade a Section 106 review, and

have been consistently evasive regarding the extent of independent oversight of

archaeological work (Oliver 2014).


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

The richness of the Richmond’s archaeological record means that considerable research

potential exists in the city, including topics associated with the African Diaspora, despite

several missed opportunities over the last several decades. This edition will discuss some of

these resources, which include African-descended bateauxmen on the James River, the

infrastructure of urban slavery, medical experimentation on African bodies, the complex

dynamics of racially-mixed colonial settlements, and the human impact of the convict leasing

system. This, however, is the tip of the iceberg. Many other collections from the city could

benefit from reanalysis through the lens of Diaspora, and several sites in the city could be

excellent locations for research into the topic.

A Brief History of Richmond’s Archaeology of the African Diaspora

The first African-descended people in Virginia arrived at Hampton in 1619, and were most

likely enslaved individuals captured in a raid on a Spanish slave ship (Sluiter 1997). History

and archaeology are relatively vague regarding the lives of free and enslaved Africans during

the early colonial period in the Richmond area; while there were early colonial settlements

(or settlement attempts) at the sites of Fort Charles, the town of Warwick, the Falling Creek

Iron Works and Westham foundry, and explorations along the James River, few records of

any sort survive of these seventeenth-century sites. However, somewhat more historical

context is available for the early 18th century community of Rocketts Landing, which was

characterized by a high degree of racial integration relative to later periods. During the

eighteenth century, the plantation economy in and around Richmond expanded, and so too

did the city’s reliance on enslavement as an economic engine.

In Richmond, changes in the regional or global slavery system had direct impacts on the way

people lived and worked. Until 1775, some enslaved people transported via ship to the dock

at Manchester had traveled directly from Africa, or via the Caribbean. Slavery was intimately

connected with life across most of Richmond, but Ancarrow’s landing (the Manchester dock

where ships of slaves were unloaded) and the many slave jails, auction houses, and slave

trader sites of Shockoe Bottom and Shockoe Slip are where this legacy is most likely to be


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materially visible. As has been only discovered recently through research by Elizabeth Cann

Kambourian and cultural resource management company Dutton+Associates, at least

seventy sites associated with slave trading are located in a mere twenty square blocks in the

historic city center (Dutton, Friedberg, and Taylor 2014).

By the Revolutionary War, enslaved Africans made up approximately half of Richmond’s

600 person population. During the hostilities, British troops in Richmond, as elsewhere,

encouraged slave escape and rebellion with promises of freedom that were largely broken

(Tyler-McGraw 1994, 60–62). By 1808, the domestic slave trade underwent rapid expansion

after Great Britain abolished the transatlantic slave trade. Given Richmond’s prominent

industrial position and its site as the east coast’s most inland port, the city became the largest

exporter of domestic slaves outside of New Orleans (although Natchez also lays claim to this

dubious distinction). Richmond’s infrastructure also rested on urban slavery, and enslaved

people worked in industries like Tredegar ironworks, doing domestic work for city residents,

and on public works projects like the Confederate earthworks and all the major public

buildings (Richardson and Duke 2008, 23–32).

In terms of the African Diaspora archaeology of antebellum Richmond, the collections from

Lumpkin’s slave jail, excavations at Tredegar Ironworks, a slave market site at the former of

Cedar and Broad Streets, and the dissected human remains recovered from the Marshall

Street well and are the most substantial collections produced thus far (Browning in prep,

Laird 2010a; Raber et al. 1992). However, because the Lumpkin’s excavation was hampered

by the high water table, and the sites at Tredegar, and Cedar and Broad do not yet have

widely available reports, even these sites’ potential are not currently fully realized.

Furthermore, the newly available material from the East Marshall Street Well Project has

come about primarily as a result of a 2011 documentary and associated community pressure

(Utsey 2011). Archaeological and curatorial best practices have sometimes not been

followed, particularly at the Medical College of Virginia well (discussed in greater detail

below). Finally, investigating urban slavery archaeologically is challenging given the sheer

volume of materials produced and the difficulties inherent in associating particular artifacts

and contexts with specific ethnic groups. However, these materials have nonetheless

produced important information regarding characteristics of Richmond slavery. Landscape


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

analysis of the topography and layout of Lumpkin’s Jail has demonstrated how structures of

urban slavery recreated spatial inequality despite the density of urban living (Laird 2010b).

Additionally, the bones recovered from the Medical College of Virginia well are important

evidence for the dehumanizing practices carried out by the medical profession on the bodies

of the enslaved, and have the potential to be informative regarding topics including the

mobility, malnutrition, disease and diet histories of Richmond’s enslaved population.

On April 3rd, 1865, the Confederate Army withdrew from Richmond after setting fires that

spread through a considerable portion of the downtown warehouse and dock district.

Liberation came to Richmond’s black population that day, among the ashes and confusion

of a city that quickly fell under martial law. Archaeology related to the African Diaspora

post-Emancipation is limited, but shows some of the mixed legacy of Reconstruction and

post-Reconstruction changes for members of the Diaspora. The impact of the black codes

and the convict leasing system that rented out predominantly black prisoners to the western

Virginia railroad projects can be seen at the Virginia State Penitentiary excavation, which

uncovered human remains that were interpreted as the repatriated remains of prisoners who

died working the rails (Nelson 2006). Similar to many projects related to Richmond’s

antebellum archaeology, there is current no site report for the Virginia State Penitentiary

project, although work will be ongoing this summer to improve understanding of its

associated archive and collections. Artifacts dating from 1867-1870 at Lumpkin’s Jail likely

relate to the use of the site as a school, the Colver Institute, for formerly-enslaved black

students (Laird 2010b). Some limited archaeological investigations were performed at the

Maggie L. Walker House, now a National Parks Service property (Saunders and Williams


Many archaeological projects relevant to Richmond’s African Diaspora history are currently

accessible through grey literature sources, but are not well-known outside of Central

Virginia. The remainder of this edition will provide more details regarding these sites,

including links to research reports and further resources when available.


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Rocketts’ Landing’s Diverse Community of Immigrants (1740s-Post-Civil War)

Pre-dating Richmond by several decades, the port community of Rocketts’ Landing grew up

around the ferry port established by Robert Rocketts sometime before 1740 (Mouer 1992,

73). While this was certainly the driving force behind mid-eighteenth century settlement, the

origins of colonial settlement in the area remain obscure, and the village is one possible

location for the John Smith garrison established in roughly 1610, shortly after Smith

purchased the Indian village of Powhatan on nearby Tree Hill. L. Daniel Mouer has

described the Rocketts’ Landing community as “a highly mixed community of merchants,

free black and hired-out slave artisans and laborers, domestic slaves, stevedores, transients,

mariners, innkeepers, and captains” (Mouer 1992, 39). A substantial research report (Mouer

1992) is available at the VDHR, and additional analyses are in preparation.

Figure 1. Bateauxmen on the James River are commemorated outside the James Center (Photo by
Ellen Chapman)


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

The Great Turning Basin of the James River and Kanawha Canal and Tobacco

Transport (1745-1840)

In the mid-1980s, archaeologist Lyle Browning and canals scholar Bill Trout became aware

of construction of the James Center in the location of the Great Turning Basin of the James

River and Kanawha Canal. They enlisted the assistance of several volunteers, including

professional and avocational archaeologists, to salvage the site. During short periods of

excavation performed over several years more than sixty boats were exposed (often via

backhoe) and recorded. This excavation was the basis of a Master’s thesis by Bruce Terrell in

1992 on the bateaux used to transport tobacco along the James River, and this site is where a

considerable amount of information regarding this boat type was collected (Terrell 1991).

James River bateauxmen, many of them enslaved Africans, navigated the rapids at Richmond

(now assessed to be Class II to IV) in shallow-draught boats full of tobacco hogsheads,

passengers, and other cargo. The archaeological site and its discoveries resulted in the

establishment in the James River Bateaux Festival and exhibits that have commemorated the

bateauxmen. Additionally, the grand entranceways to the James Center financial buildings

now boast several large pieces of statuary portraying men pulling the bateaux upriver against

the current (Figure 1). However, the condition of the archaeological remains themselves

remains tenuous (Kollatz 2014). Several fragments of these boats remain in storage facilities

in the Richmond area, and continue to be in need of conservation, research and analysis. In

2014, the boat curated by the ASV at Kittiewan Plantation was named to the Virginia Top

Ten Endangered Artifacts list, the first time an archaeological artifact has been named to the

finalists list. There are also some submerged collections of artifacts that have not yet been

conserved, and may have lost provenience information in the intervening decades.

The most substantial published description of the Great Turning Basin archaeology is East

Carolina University Research Report No. 7, which examined tobacco transport along the

James using information regarding boat construction, details regarding artifacts found

associated with the boats, and related historical records. The report also documents the

financial and timing challenges faced by the excavators, as boats were re-covered by cave-ins,

and boat recording was truncated by contractors destroying them. In the Chapter VI, Terrell


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discusses the historical information regarding the boats’ crews, romantic images about them,

their rations and travel habits, and how regulations discriminated between the enslaved, free,

and white bateauxmen.

The Marshall St. Well and Medical Exploitation of Black Bodies

In 1994, a well containing human remains, personal effects, and medical tools was

discovered during the excavation of the Kontos Medical Sciences Building on Marshall

Street. The well was predominantly excavated using construction equipment due to time-

pressures and safety concerns, and the archaeologists called to salvage the bones were given

just a weekend for bone retrieval and recording. Since the well extended below the water

table, it is likely that additional dissected remains were entombed beneath the building

foundation. The bones have evidence of dissection and autopsy cuts, and have been

identified by Smithsonian forensic anthropologists as predominantly African-American

(Owsley and Bruwelheide 2012). They are associated with the illicit use of bodies, primarily

black, in the nineteenth century for anatomical instruction at the Medical College of Virginia

(Koste 2012). Understandably, this site has been the focus of considerable community anger,

particularly in light of a documentary (Until the Well Runs Dry: Medicine and the

Exploitation of Black Bodies) produced by VCU Psychology Professor Shawn Utsey about

the site in 2011. As a result of community activism, The VCU President’s Office is currently

in the process of a community-engaged commemoration process, called The East Marshall

Street Well Project, that will determine the future reburial process, directions for future

research, and appropriate ways for VCU to mitigate their actions in relation to this site. The

grey literature available for this site include an osteological analysis of the bones, an artifact

analysis, a historical investigation of nineteenth-century medical instruction in Richmond,

and an introduction describing the broad trajectory of the field recovery. Peer-reviewed

publication of the osteological analysis of these remains are forthcoming in a volume from

Springer entitled The Bioarchaeology of Dissection and Autopsy in the United States, edited

by Ken Nystrom.


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

Shockoe Bottom: Archaeological Potential and Public Debate

Shockoe Bottom (see Figure 2) has become indelibly marked as an archaeological space,

perhaps more than any other Richmond place in recent memory. The 2006 and 2008

excavations of the Robert Lumpkins complex by the James River Institute for Archaeology

are the most publicly-oriented archaeology to have taken place in the city, and the recurrence

of the baseball stadium debate in 2013 acquired an archaeological element when

archaeologist Terry Brock began to discuss the area’s archaeological potential in a blog post

that drew substantial local attention. The Revitalize RVA development is a city-financed

project proposing to construct a baseball stadium, hotel, grocery store, slavery heritage

museum, and other projects on an 8 acre parcel of Shockoe Bottom. Following publication

and media coverage of the blog, and a Historical and Archaeological Symposium on Shockoe

Bottom in March 2014, the city contracted with an engineering company to produce an

archaeological and historical review. This review, discussed before City Council by David

Dutton in this video, emphasized the likely sensitivity of the area, and particularly referenced

the archaeological potential for recovering at least nine buildings associated with slave

Figure 2. Shockoe Bottom from Church Hill, facing northwest (Photo by Ellen Chapman).


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Below the Bottom: Historical Significance, Archaeology, and Public Engagement at Shockoe Bottom

traders; two major tenements occupied by free and enslaved African-Americans; two blocks

of the original 1737 Mayo town grid; a major industrial and commercial corridor of the

nineteenth century; and structures related to early Richmond churches (Dutton, Friedberg,

and Taylor 2014). One of the most significant of these sites is a lot owned by Silas

Omohondro on 17th Street, which may have included a slave jail as well as a boarding house

and residence. Omohondro may have lived there with his enslaved wife Corinna, providing

some parallels between him and Robert Lumpkin whose wife Mary was also of African

descent. Partnerships between enslaved women and white city businessmen (particularly

those most directly associated with the slave trade) have been repeatedly documented but

little is understood regarding their influence or the rhythms of their daily lives, and this site

could be an important material study. Another material remnant of the African Diaspora in

Shockoe bottom is the cabin purchased for Emily Winfree by her former owner. Winfree

was enslaved south of the river in Manchester, and her children’s father was likely her owner.

A community organization, the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond’s Neighborhoods,

lobbied to have this structure preserved when the land around it was slated for a public

housing development project.

Lumpkin’s Jail Complex

During the 1990s, the Richmond

Slave Trail Commission was

founded to investigate and

acknowledge the city’s

involvement in the slave trade,

particularly the domestic slave

trade that sold enslaved men,

woman, and children born on

Virginia plantations to the cotton

plantations of the Deep South.

The Slave Trail Commission

Figure 3. Engraving of Lumpkin’s Jail in Charles H. Corey’s,
Historical Sketch of the Richmond Institute, 1876, p. 5. (from
Laird 2010a)


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

created interpretive signage and statuary to mark sites on the north and south of the river

associated with the transport, sale, punishment, residence, and resistance of enslaved

Africans in the city. During the mid-2000s, the city partnered with the Commission, the

Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and ACORN to fund an archaeological

investigation at Lumpkin’s Jail, a complex that included one of the most notorious slave jails

in Shockoe Bottom.

The degrading practices at Lumpkin’s Jail in Shockoe (it moved around several times, as

most slave traders and auctioneers did) were revealed in a biographical account from the

perspective of former prisoner Anthony Burns (Laird 2010a, 24–26). The site of Lumpkin’s

Jail was excavated in two stages by James River Institute for Archaeology, a Phase II testing

investigation and a Phase III data recovery (report in two parts). Due to the extensive

overburden (the jail was eventually located 14 feet below modern grade), the excavators only

just uncovered the jail site when the excavation was concluded. However, the work

recovered a considerable quantity of artifacts, much of it dating to the latter half of the

Figure 4. Lumpkin’s Jail Excavation with buildings identified (image courtesy of the James River
Institute for Archaeology and the Richmond Slave Trail Commission).


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nineteenth century. Additionally, the archaeological work characterized the layout,

topography, and orientation of the Lumpkin’s compound as a carefully-assembled landscape

of power that reinforced the power relations of urban slavery in a similar way as did the

design of rural plantations (Laird 2010b).

Virginia State Penitentiary

The Virginia State Penitentiary site was excavated in 1991 by Katherine Beidleman prior to

the demolition of the old state penitentiary. The excavations were primarily focused on

searching for any remaining foundations of the original state penitentiary, which was

designed in 1796 by Benjamin Latrobe, later architect of the White House and U.S. Capitol.

While fieldwork indicated that most of the Latrobe foundations were destroyed in

subsequent construction in 1928, some fragments of the original foundations were located

and preserved in place. However, what no one expected was the presence in the courtyard of

multiple human skeletons, consisting of individual burials but also disarticulated charnel pits.

Although some scholars who have studied the materials believe them to relate to an

unknown municipal cemetery, historian Scott Nelson and others have argued that they

represent the remains of prisoners leased to the railroad in convict leasing. Nelson’s book

Steel Drivin’ Man investigated the leasing system and has hypothesized that the genesis of

the John Henry legend may have been John William Henry, a man who was incarcerated at

the penitentiary and leased to the C&O railroad in 1874. The C&O at the time was digging

the Lewis Tunnel in western Virginia, where they used a steel drill to help cut through the

mountain. Unfortunately, Katherine Beidleman died in 2013 and no report was ever

completed for the Penitentiary or its burials. The human remains from this excavation are

curated at the Smithsonian, where they have been examined by Douglas Owsley and Kari

Bruwelheide. Work is currently ongoing to assess the feasibility of recreating a site report for

this site, which also includes an assemblage (including ceramics, architectural remains, and

limited faunal material) that does not appear to have been processed since the excavation.


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1


Campbell, B. 2011. Richmond’s Unhealed History. Richmond, Virginia: Brandylane
Publishers, Inc.

Davis, Veronica. 2000. Here I Lay My Burdens Down: A History of the Black Cemeteries of
Richmond, Virginia. Petersburg, VA: Dietz Press.

Dovi, Chris. 2014. “Building on History.” Richmond Magazine, January.

Dutton, David, Dara Friedberg, and Robert J Taylor. 2014. Cultural Context and Thematic
Study for the Proposed Revitalize RVA Project. Review Draft. Prepared for Greeley and
Hanson by Dutton+Associates. Submitted to the City of Richmond. May 2014. Richmond,

Hantman, JL. 1990. “Between Powhatan and Quirank: Reconstructing Monacan Culture and
History in the Context of Jamestown.” American Anthropologist 92 (3): 676–90.

Kelso, William. 2006. Jamestown: The Buried Truth. Charlottesville, VA: University of
Virginia Press.

Kollatz, Harry E. 2014. “Mud Brothers.” Richmond Magazine.

Koste, Jodi L. 2012. Artifacts and Commingled Skeletal Remains from a Well on the Medical
College of Virginia Campus : Anatomical and Surgical Training in Nineteenth- Century
Richmond. Paper 2. Richmond, Virginia.

Laird, Matthew R. 2010a. Archaeological Data Recovery Investigation of the Lumpkin’s
Slave Jail Site (44HE1053) Volume I: Research Report. James River Institute for
Archaeology, Inc. Richmond, Virginia.

———. 2010b. Unearthing the Devil ’s Half Acre: Archaeological Data Recovery
Investigation of the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site Volume II: Artifact Inventory. James River
Institute for Archaeology, Inc. Richmond, Virginia.

Lazarus, Jerry. 1984. “Archaeologists Come in Wake of Backhoe in Shockoe Slip.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 22.

McPherson, JM. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford, UK: Oxford
University Press.

Mouer, L. Daniel. 1992. Rocketts: The Archaeology of the Rocketts Number 1 Site (441 HE
671), Lot 203 in the City of Richmond. Richmond, Virginia.


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Published by [email protected] Amherst, 2015

Nelson, Scott Reynolds. 2006. Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry: The Untold Story of an
American Legend. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Oliver, Ned. 2014. “City Shifts Ballpark Development to Avoid Historic Review.” Style
Weekly, May.

Owsley, Douglas W, and Karin Bruwelheide. 2012. Artifacts and Commingled Skeletal
Remains from a Well on the Medical College of Virginia Campus : Human Skeletal Remains
from Archaeological Site 44HE814. Paper 4. Richmond, Virginia.

Pilot, The Virginian. 2013. “Archaeological Review of Skins ’ Camp Site Wraps up.” The
Virginian Pilot, January 9.

Raber, MS Raber, PM Malone, and RB Gordon. 1992. Historical and Archaeological
Assessment Tredegar Ironworks Site. Richmond, Virginia. Richmond, Virginia.

Richardson, S, and M Duke. 2008. Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and
Neighborhoods in Richmond. Richmond, Virginia: The Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond

Sluiter, E. 1997. “New Light on the‘ 20 and Odd Negroes’ Arriving in Virginia, August
1619.” The William and Mary Quarterly.

Takagi, Midori. 2000. Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destruction: Slavery in Richmond
Virginia, 1782–1865. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Terrell, BG. 1991. The James River Bateau: Tobacco Transport in Upland Virginia 1745-
1840. ECU Research Report 7. Greenville, NC.

Tyler-McGraw, M. 1994. At the Falls: Richmond, Virginia and Its People. Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press.

Utsey, Shawn. 2011. “Until the Well Runs Dry: Medicine and the Exploitation of Black
Bodies.” Burn Baby Burn Productions. United States of America.


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

Links to Related Media

The Latest Announcement (April 2015)

Tourism and Public History

To Be Sold Exhibit at the Library of Virginia:


Visit Richmond

Creator of Shockoe slavery map blasts city over use


Could a Slavery Museum be Built in Shockoe Bottom?


Symposium on the domestic slave trade

To Be Sold: The American Slave Trade from Virginia to New Orleans (symposium)

Shockoe Bottom Archaeology and Historic Preservation Efforts

Terry Brock’s blog post

David Dutton’s presentation to City Council regarding the Archaeological and Historical

Review of Shockoe Bottom

Before It’s Too Late: The History and Archaeology of Shockoe Bottom Symposium


The Underground Legacy of Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, Virginia



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Below the Bottom: Historical Significance, Archaeology, and Public Engagement at Shockoe Bottom

Article on Black America Web


National Public Radio: Richmond, Va., Wrangling Over Future Of Historic Slave Trade Site

RVA News:

The Cheats Movement:


Solomon Northrup’s Family Speaks Out:


James River & Kanawha Canal Bateaux

East Caroline University Research Report No. 7

Lumpkin’s Jail

Preliminary investigations report

Final report vol 1

Final report vol 2

Matt Laird’s presentation on Lumpkin’s Jail at the Shockoe Bottom Symposium

Medical College of Virginia well (East Marshall Street Well Project)

The East Marshall Street Well Project website


Anatomical and Surgical Training in 19th Century Richmond

Artifacts Report

Osteological Report

RVA Archaeology




African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

Little Known Black History Fact: Richmond Slave Market

Little Known Black History Fact: Richmond Slave Market

The Slave Trade in Richmond’s%20Jail%20data%20recovery%20report%20vol.%201%20(research).pdf’s%20Jail%20data%20recovery%20report%20vol.%202%20(artifacts).pdf

Shockoe Bottom Archaeology in the Media

Smithsonian Magazine-


City Lab – America’s Failure to Preserve Historic Slave Markets

The Root – Lupita Nyong’o is Against Turning 12 Years a Slave Site into a Baseball Stadium

NY Times – Lupita Nyong’o Seeks Va. Slave-Trade Preservation

Washington Post – Shockoe Bottom Ballpark proposal could bury Richmond’s slave history

To Read

Baptist, Edward E. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American
Capitalism. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

Deyle, Steven. Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2005.

Eggert, Gerald G. “Notes and Documents: A Pennsylvanian Visits the Richmond Slave
Market,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 109, no. 4 (October 1985): 571–

Gudmestad, Robert H. “A Troublesome Commerce”: The Transformation of the Interstate
Slave Trade. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.

Johnson,Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1999.

McInnis, Maurie D. Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.


Deetz et al.: Historic Black Lives Matter

Published by [email protected] Amherst, 2015

The Thread: Reflections on #Blacklivesmatter and 21st Century Racial Dynamics

Kelley Deetz

This piece is dedicated to Malcolm X who would have been 90 years old today.

“I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe

that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who

want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash but I don’t think it

will be based on the color of the skin.” –Malcolm X

I think America is starting to wake up. Alarms of racial violence and unjust verdicts have

saturated the social media. These things are not new, but they have finally become news and

worthy of note. The social fabric of this nation is twisting and tearing in new ways, but in

similar directions. As a scholar and professor of Black history I am maddened by the chaos.

This moment provokes rigorous analysis. My mind is rapidly tracing moments, mentally

referencing scholarship and chronicles that weave into this everlasting narrative. This is all

too familiar, while being completely unlike anything in the past. The familiar is the consistent

abuse of Black bodies and spirits by white authority figures, and the routine excusing of such

acts. It is the ebb and flow of cognitive dissonance and civil unrest, manifested in protests,

marches, chants, radical iconography, semiotics, kinesics, rhetoric, and a series of high-

profile incidents that keep gaining international attention. America is catching fire, again.

This fire is not new–it never went out. This is the same fire that burned in the souls of

enslaved African folk throughout the Diaspora, inspired resistance, revolts, and revolutions.

This same fire was in Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Denmark Vessey, Frederick Douglass,

and Harriet Tubman, and helped them fight against slavery, and in Ida B. Wells-Barnett who

battled exhaustively against Lynchings, and in the countless organizers who shut down Jim

Crow. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X had this same fire, but chose to direct it in

different ways for the same cause. This fire is burning and powerful and ever so familiar.

The fight for civil rights began when that first captive African was put on a ship to sail to a

land where he would become systematically, legally, and institutionally oppressed for



African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

Resistance is inseparable from oppression, and protests are undoubtedly chaotic. However,

this particular moment is more opaque than ever, and trying to simplify the dynamics can be

challenging. Racism fed into laws, and laws dictated civil rights. It was transparent and

targetable. The successes of the modern Civil Rights Movement are clearly seen in the legal

sphere, as the government established equality through legislation. However, laws only

enforce boundaries, they don’t change ideologies. The CRM did little to eradicate racism.

The racist white students who spit on, beat, and screamed at black students as they

integrated public schools went on to have children and undoubtedly passed on legacies of

hate. These legacies are hundreds of years old, and continue to inform ignorance as we’ve

seen recently in multitudes of cases.

Television played a pivotal role in the modern Civil Rights Movement as it allowed the non-

violent tactics to play on the moral sensibilities of mainstream America. The 21st century has

more sophisticated media sharing, without the control that the 20th century ensured.

Grassroots movements are at our fingertips as we hashtag and tweet ourselves into mass

momentum. Videos capture manifestations of our racist nation as they record the brutal

unjust murders of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, and Walter Scott. There is no mistaking the

current state of chaos in this nation. One second on twitter and you know: this historic fire

is raging.

America was never post-racial, and the mythical idea that was is quickly unraveling. We are in

a state of moral and cultural turmoil and nothing is clear except that we live in a highly

racialized and racist country that is struggling to measure its pulse. The modern Civil Rights

Movement gave way to the popularization of Liberal cultural norms. Political correctness

became the standard. No longer was it acceptable to say racist words, tell racists jokes, or

more recently, even refer to race. The Liberal-born move to become a “color-blind” society

fed off good intentions, but failed miserably as it inadvertently promoted a more

sophisticated form of racism in our nation. Color-blindness is a privilege of whiteness, and

one that carries little to no residence or respect in communities of color. If you can truly not

see color you’re disrespecting the rich cultures around you and choosing to ignore the

dignity and pride that historically oppressed groups have sewn despite centuries of abuse.


Deetz et al.: Historic Black Lives Matter

Published by [email protected] Amherst, 2015

Ironically, “color-blindness” epitomizes the height of white patriarchal demands; something

that Liberals often demonize.

The #Blacklivesmatter campaign is impressively strong. With the current state of racism in

this nation, we must approach the challenges with new tactics. We need to think critically

about our demands. The left has shown us that “eracism” bumper stickers didn’t erase

anything, and forcing a lexicon onto a complicated and deeply historical social problem only

masked the beast. How do we slay this “beast” within the confines of our constitution? How

can we support free speech and then punish that very freedom? We must believe in equality

and justice for all. Neither of those are given. We are a nation who is highly stratified

according to class, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and religion. No law can fix this–

behaviors and beliefs fix this.

America’s dirty secret keeps rearing its head because it’s never fully been acknowledged nor

has it been properly addressed through education. This is an era where states like Arizona,

are actively omitting ethnic studies curriculums, while college police tackle black professors

as if they were enforcing the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Police aren’t held accountable because

latent racism cannot be tested by the means they employ.

The recent police murder of Baltimore citizen Mr. Freddie Gray made this fire explode in

ways that forced justice to come to the table. Protestors began employing terms with deep

roots in the rhetoric of race and revolt; #blackspring compares the U.S. strife to that of the

#Arabspring, an association that surely terrifies conservative Americans. They took on

#baltimoreuprising to signify the slave uprisings that generations of blacks participated in

and that led to the liberation of Haiti. The replacement of the word “riot” with “revolt” is

of a similar vein. These words have historical currency and evoke the memories of the

ancestors, and the long legacy of struggle in the African Diaspora.

The city of Baltimore yields an incredibly complex stage to discuss race, power, police, and

justice. Americans like binaries and simplicities. This is not simple. Six police officers- three

white, three African American, were charged for Mr. Gray’s murder. Intersections of power,

race, place, and class worked in twisted ways. It is this intricacy compiled with generations of


African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 15 [2015], Iss. 1, Art. 1

institutionalized racism, oppression, and poverty that make Baltimore such a complicated

place for teasing out simple narratives for public consumption. Baltimore, in so many ways

is Oakland, Detroit, Chicago, etc. It is the essence of the disease that is racism in the 21st

century. Race in 2015 is highly complex and deeply rooted in the fabric of our nation.

Whose responsibility is it to teach Americans to think critically? How do we move forward

when so few folks refuse to look back? What does Baltimore say about the legacies of

slavery and Jim Crow?

To be continued . . .

Some recent pieces on Malcolm X and #Blacklivesmatter:

What Would Malcom X Think? (by his daughter ILyasah Shabazz)

Do Black Lives Matter: Rectifying Malcolm X with Post-Racial America:

How Malcolm X’s Teachings are Being Revived 50 Years After His Assassination:


Deetz et al.: Historic Black Lives Matter

Published by [email protected] Amherst, 2015

African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter
Spring 2015

Historic Black Lives Matter: Archaeology as Activism in the 21st Century
Kelley F. Deetz
Ellen Chapman
Ana Edwards
Phil Wilayto
Recommended Citation


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