2022 Catherine W. Bishir Prize Recipient
The 2022 winner of the Catherine W. Bishir Prize is Ryan K. Smith for his article "Disappearing the Enslaved: The Destruction and Recovery of Richmond’s Second African Burial Ground," which appears in the Spring 2020 edition of Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum. Smith's essay considers the primary burial ground for enslaved and free blacks from 1816 through emancipation in Richmond, Virginia, one of the longest- serving and most populous burial grounds of its kind in the nation. The site’s early history and active use show its profound role in the lives of the city’s African American residents as well as intimate
connections with resident whites buried in adjoining cemeteries. Yet today the burial ground stands as the site of an abandoned gas station, its historic core unrecognized like so many other smaller burial grounds for the enslaved elsewhere. By tracing the process of obliteration at Richmond’s “second African Burial Ground,” this article illustrates how those in power— in this case a New South coalition of government officials, city engineers, and private developers—worked to truncate the highly charged memorial landscape related to human remains. The loss of this immense burial ground, untouched in the scholarly literature until now, underscores
how essential the landscape and even human bodies are for the maintenance of social space and memory. As this site continues to face threats by roadway and railway projects and a proposed auction, it poses a key challenge to the concept of material “integrity” at the heart of federal preservation guidelines that have placed such properties at a disadvantage. As descendants and activists work to reclaim this burial ground without benefit of archaeological discoveries, the historic importance of its destruction may offer one of its few ways forward. Smith's beautifully written essay sits at the intersection of archival history and preservation practice, and serves as a model of community engagement.