January 19, 2021

Virginia Faith Leaders to Host Prayer Vigils across the State to Advocate Abolishing the Death Penalty: Vigils will be held at locations where lynchings and executions took place

RICHMOND – As the Virginia General Assembly considers bills to eliminate the death penalty (SB1165 / HB2263), faith leaders will gather (in accordance with CDC guidelines) on Friday, Jan. 22, at noon to host prayer vigils to express their support for ending capital punishment.

Vigils will be held at sites where lynchings and executions took place in: Alexandria, Danville, Richmond, Roanoke, and Tidewater. Faith leaders will highlight the death penalty’s historical connection to Jim Crow laws, racial oppression, and lynching and will read the names of local lynching victims at each of the events. The Richmond event will be streamed live on

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) gathered more than 340 signatures for a statement from faith leaders calling on the legislature to end the death penalty. The statement proclaims, “It is time to address this historical sin and end state-ordered execution in Virginia.”

Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook, Justice Reform Organizer for VICPP, said, “Faith leaders in Virginia are raising their voices in unison to reject an outdated and inhumane practice that has been disproportionately used to punish Black people throughout our state’s history.”

“I am deeply concerned about the racial inequities that continue to define our state’s use of capital punishment,” said Pastor Sheridan Nelson, Senior Pastor of Abyssinia Baptist Church of Norfolk, Virginia. “We cannot tolerate a system that was built on a foundation of racial oppression and terror. Its mere existence undermines any and all efforts to build a more equitable and fair justice system.”

“We need to seek more effective responses to violence that focus on accountability, healing, reconciliation, and redemption,” added Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth-El in Richmond. “The death penalty continues to drain resources away from data-driven programs that will actually help our communities become healthier and safer and better address the needs of those impacted by trauma and violence.”

PRAYER VIGIL LOCATIONS: Friday, January 22, 2021 at noon

Alexandria Prayer Vigil – at a church that provided safe haven for free and enslaved Blacks in the 1800’s (see article hereLocation: Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church, 606 S. Washington St., Alexandria, VA

Danville Prayer Vigil – close to a lynching site
Location: 401 South Ridge Street, Danville, VA, Hosted by Rev. Marvin D. Warner, President, Danville Ministers’ Alliance

Richmond Prayer Vigil – former execution site at old state penitentiary
(watch LIVE on

Location: Former state penitentiary now Afton Chemical Co. at 500 Spring Street, Richmond, VA (Spring and Belvidere) Hosted by the Richmond and Henrico Baptist Ministers’ Alliance and Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth-El Richmond

Roanoke Prayer Vigil – at a lynching site
Location: Grasslands near Roanoke River – the bank of the Roanoke River/ flanking the Greenway near the walking bridge adjacent to the Wasena Park playground, 1119 Wiley Dr SW.

Tidewater Prayer Vigil
Location: Norfolk City Hall, 810 Union Street, Norfolk, VA, 23510
Hosted by Rev. Keith Jones and the Tidewater Minister’s Alliance (see Virginian-Pilot article)


RESOURCESfact sheet on the historical connection between Virginia’s use of the death penalty and lynching

CONTACTS: Roberta Oster, Communications Director,

Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook, Justice Reform Organizer,



The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy advocates economic, racial, social, and environmental justice in Virginia’s policies and practices through education, prayer, and action. VICPP is a non-partisan coalition of more than 750 faith communities working for a more just society.