Gabriel’s anniversary

Last night, under clear skies, Richmond’s Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality hosted what has become an annual memorial at the African Burial Ground. About fifty people attended to remember that night in August 1800 when the enslaved Henrico County blacksmith Gabriel and hundreds of his fellow conspirators sought to march on Richmond and seize the capitol under the banner of “Death or Liberty.” The plot had failed at the last moment and nearly thirty conspirators would be hung, including Gabriel, and the bodies of many must have been buried at this site, called by whites the “Burial Ground for Negroes.”

Members of the Defenders, alongside Lynetta Thompson, past president of the NAACP, led the assembled participants in prayer, reflection, and a brief reading of the history of Gabriel’s rebellion. The speakers connected all of it to the challenges faced by people of color today, particularly in the aftermath of Charlottesville. They brought banners and artwork to post alongside the burial ground’s signage, and at the close of the ceremony, attendees brought up bundles of flowers and other offerings to the center stones. It was peaceful and inspiring, a lovely use of this reflective space.