From Mon Dec 22 13:25:16 2003
From: WW News Service <>
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To: WW News Service <>
Subject: wwnews Digest #708
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2003 12:31:22 -0400

Gabriel’s Rebellion: Richard honors slave uprising of 1800

Special to Workers World, Workers World, 23 October 2003

Richmond, Va.—Death or Liberty!

That was to have been the rallying cry of Gabriel’s Rebellion, a carefully planned but tragically aborted mass uprising against slavery in Virginia in the summer of 1800.

The slogan was painted on a simple, muslin-cloth banner that hung behind the speaker’s podium at a public meeting held Oct. 10 in Richmond to honor Gabriel and all who struggled with him.

The meeting took place on the 203rd anniversary of Gabriel’s execution. It was sponsored by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality, a largely African-American community group.

Keynote speaker Dr. Haskell Bingham, a college administrator, family historian and Gabriel’s great-great-grandson, told the audience of more than 90 people the story of the rebellion.

On Aug. 30, 1800, thousands of enslaved Black people had been prepared to march into Richmond, seize the state armory and force Gov. James Monroe to declare an end to slavery.

Their leader was a charismatic, 24-year-old blacksmith named Gabriel, who was influenced by both the Haitian and French revolutions. Death or Liberty was a Haitian slogan.

Because of Virginia’s key role in the system of slavery and Richmond’s status as the industrial center of the pre-Civil-War South, a successful slave rebellion could have changed the course of U.S. history.

As it was, a terrible thunderstorm the night of the planned uprising forced a one-day delay, which proved fatal to the effort. At least 27 co-conspirators were captured, tried and hung.

Gabriel was executed on Oct. 10, 1800, at the city gallows, located near downtown in a forbidding, low-lying area that also held the Burial Ground for Negroes.

To this day, in a city known for its scores of memorials honoring pro- slavery generals and politicians, not a single sign or plaque marks the site of Gabriel’s execution, or even the burial ground, now covered over by a privately owned parking lot.

At the meeting, held at an historic Black church 14 blocks from the burial ground, Defenders member Ana Edwards announced plans for a fundraising campaign to place a state historical marker at the site.

Also speaking were former City Council member Sa’ad El-Amin, who last year successfully introduced a council resolution honoring Gabriel as a freedom fighter; Elizabeth Kambourian, a Richmond historian who discovered the existence of the long-forgotten burial ground; and Phil Wilayto, a reporter who has written about both Gabriel and the burial ground for the African-American newsweekly Richmond Free Press.

Tara Plummer of the Defenders urged participants to attend the Oct. 25 anti-war march in Washington, D.C., sponsored by International ANSWER and other organizations.

The meeting’s participants then lined up behind the banner with the words Death or Liberty and marched to the burial ground, carrying the rebellion’s defiant demand to the site of Gabriel’s execution. There they laid a wreath in honor of all the rebellion’s participants, and all the anonymous ancestors buried below the parking lot.