East Marshall Street Well Project Update


On June 4, VCU hosted the fifth and final consultation with the community to discuss the East Marshall Street Well Project. However, this is not the conclusion of our effort to properly memorialize and recognize what happened on East Marshall Street more than a century-and-a-half ago.

The Family Representative Council provided a draft report with recommendations for next steps. The recommendations encompass three phases — research, memorialization, and interment — and will be of great value to us as we solemnly work to learn more about the remains of those human beings discarded in a well on East Marshall Street so long ago. We owe this to our neighbors — past, present, and future – and these individuals.

During the research phase, scholars whose expertise meet the demands of the project will study the well site and the experience of Africans and African Americans in Richmond. DNA and microbial analysis conducted on the remains will allow scientists to determine the genetic ancestry, gender, and the environment in which they lived. Through targeted sampling, we hope scientists may be able to determine biological relationships with living members of the community.

The Memorialization Working Group and the Interment Working Group collaborated to develop a set of recommendations for appropriate memorialization and interment. Four locations near the Kontos and Egyptian Buildings will contain commemorative and educational signage. A physical marker near the site of the East Marshall Street Well was recommended. In addition, artwork and signage explaining the importance of the site was suggested in the proposal.

Our medical students will continue to gather and thank those who have contributed to the progression of scientific knowledge — willingly and unknowingly. These memorial services take place prior to these students’ anatomy coursework.

The Family Representative Council recommends interment of ancestral remains at the African Burial Ground. Evergreen Cemetery, the resting spot of many notable African American residents of Richmond, was also suggested. If interment is not possible at either site, it has been recommended that VCU procure and maintain an appropriate burial site.

Coffins designed and built by West African artisans will hold the remains and artifacts found at the East Marshall Street Well site. Funerary rites will reflect African and African American funerary practices. The ceremony will be advertised and open to the public.

A project of such magnitude is rife with emotion and challenge. I am grateful for the meticulous attention project manager Stephen Davenport has given to the East Marshall Street Well Project. Senior assistant Kevin Allison has been a superb representative of VCU as we meet with our neighbors to memorialize and recognize those found in the well on East Marshall Street.

I am thankful for the group of volunteers who came together as the Family Representative Council to properly address and memorialize these individuals. Through guidance from the Family Representative Council, I have faith that we are doing the right thing to ensure they will be remembered with the dignity and respect that eluded them in life.