By LeAnn Hensche and Floyd Myers (Photo by Tim Hanger)

“The Richmond Slave Trail is a walking trail that chronicles the history of the trade of enslaved Africans from Africa to Virginia until 1775, and away from Virginia, especially Richmond, to other locations in the Americas until 1865. It begins at Manchester Docks, a major port in the massive downriver slave trade that made Richmond the largest source of enslaved Africans on the east coast of America from 1830 to 1860. The trail then follows a route through the slave markets of Richmond, beside the Reconciliation Statue commemorating the international triangular slave trade, past Lumpkin’s Slave Jail and the Negro Burial Ground to First African Baptist Church, a center of African-American life in pre-Civil War Richmond.” —www.virginia.org

Following is an interview of Osher member Floyd Meyers by member LeAnn Hensche. Floyd and LeAnn researched the trail in order to lead Osher members on the slave trail walk in spring 2012 and during Black History Month in 2013. In addition to his tour of the slave trail, Floyd leads the Osher hiking interest group, offers UR campus walks and tours, and has been a class assistant. A former history teacher, LeAnn also serves on the Osher hiking team, co-leads campus architecture and walking tours, and has co-led the Hollywood Cemetary sleuth hunt. She is a tour guide with the Valentine Museum and a docent at the Virginia Historical Society.

LeAnn: When did you first learn of the slave trail?

Floyd: I don’t remember. It was several years ago, but I had no details and little interest.

LeAnn: Why did you decide to walk the trail?

Floyd: I saw a TV news broadcast about the trail’s dedication in the spring of 2011. The broadcast provided other details about the trail. A friend of mine and I try to take a two-hour walk every Friday. I suggested the slave trail to him, and we walked it.

LeAnn: What was your impression after your first walk?

Floyd: I had a mixed reaction. I told my friend that it was a walk that no one should miss. The information on the placards was a compelling story of the true face of slavery. I was disappointed that we could not find two of the placards which tell the story of slavery. We did find a brochure from the dedication ceremony in Main Street Station. Unfortunately a useful map was not included.

LeAnn: Why did you propose an Osher course to walk the trail?

Floyd: I talked with you and several other Osher members and got very positive responses. I then went to Jane Dowrick who was also very positive and she agreed to schedule the walk for Spring 2012.

LeAnn: Let’s talk about the trail itself. We agreed that it was a story about Richmond’s early history that needed to be told—ugliness and all!

Floyd: This walking trail traces the beginning of the Richmond slave trade in the early to mid-1700s with Trans-Atlantic slave ships coming into Manchester Docks on the south side of the James. Later the slave trade began to move out of Virginia to the cotton and sugar cane plantations in the lower south. The trail follows a route that many enslaved Africans took as they crossed the James in chains going to or leaving from the slave pens and the auction houses in Shockoe Bottom.

Richmond eventually became second only to New Orleans in the buying and selling of enslaved humans (approximately 300,000 between 1820-1860). In fact, by 1850 Richmond’s biggest business by dollar volume was not tobacco, flour, iron or coal, but SLAVES!

LeAnn: While this walk is only 1-1/2 miles long one way and is now fairly well marked, we had some logistics problems to deal with last year on the return trip to Manchester Docks, didn’t we?

Floyd: Yes, while the trail is fairly short, it actually took about 2-1/2 to 3 hours to complete by the time we read placards and responded to questions and comments. When we reached the end of the trail near Lumpkin’s Jail and the Main Street train station, it wasn’t feasible time-wise, at least for many of the Osher participants, to walk back to Manchester Docks. We came up with an optional shuttle service from the train station back to the Docks. That worked pretty well.

LeAnn: Let’s talk now about the February 1, 2013 walk.

Floyd: You and I told Jane we would lead another walk in the spring of 2013. Jane called me and said that a student Black History Committee wanted to walk the trail on February 1 as part of Black History Month. We both agreed to work with the students and do the walk again. Unfortunately, I was unable to participate much due to health issues.

LeAnn: What about future walks?

Floyd: I was impressed when I heard from you about the number of walkers and the student participation in 2013. I would like to see the walk continue as a part of Black History Month and as a joint project of students and Osher members.

I would like to continue my participation. But as we have discussed, we need other leaders to step forward. It would be great if the black student leadership would actually lead next year’s Black History Month walk. Getting their perspective on the slave walk would provide an invaluable history lesson for us all.

I also hope that the city and/or an African-American group, like the Elegba Cultural Center, will become more active in providing information and promoting this important asset to our city. Fortunately, the Richmond Slave Trail Commission has finally reprinted its brochure and map about the trail. That’s a start!