Dale M. Brumfield is the author of twelve books. His latest is “Closing the Slaughterhouse: The Inside Story of Death Penalty Abolition in Virginia.” This follows “Railroaded: the true stories of the first 100 people executed in Virginia’s electric chair,” “Theme Park Babylon,” “Naked Savages,” both novels, and “Virginia State Penitentiary: A Notorious History,” about the iconic prison that sat in Richmond from 1800 to 1991. His other history books, “Richmond Independent Press” (2013) and “Independent Press in D.C and Virginia: An Underground History” (2015) chronicle the rise and fall of Virginia and D.C.’s underground and alternative press in the 1960s and ’70s. Both were nominated for the Library of Virginia Literary Awards in nonfiction.
In 2015, Dale was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the Rappahannock Review Literary journal at Mary Washington University for his nonfiction short story “Death Row Report.”
Dale is also an arts features writer for Richmond’s Style Weekly, North of the James and Richmond magazines, and since 2010 has won numerous Virginia Press Association and national AAN awards for his cover stories. He has also contributed to the Richmond Free Press newspaper, the Austin Chronicle, USA Today, and the newsmagazine website Medium.com.
In 2021, Dale was a co-recipient of the Frederick Douglass Human Rights Award by the Southern Centre for Human Rights in Atlanta for abolishing Virginia’s death penalty. Also, in 2021, he was co-recipient of the Mary Ruth Weir Award, presented by Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. In 2022, California’s Death Penalty Focus honored Dale for his abolition work.
Most recently, Dale won first place for feature writing in 2022 with the Virginia Press Association for his January Richmond Magazine cover story, "The Unbroken."
In 2015, he received his Master of Fine Arts from VCU’s prestigious Creative Writing program. He has also presented seminars and presentations on “cultural archaeology” to the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, the Rockbridge County Historical Society, and the Virginia Humanities Conference in Falls Church, Virginia.
Dale lives with his wife Susan in Doswell, Virginia.
Virginia hid execution files from the public.
Here's what they don't want you to see
11 MAY 2023
by Chiara Eisner
"In January, NPR aired excerpts from four tapes recorded behind the scenes during Virginia executions. It was only the second time in history that audio from inside an execution chamber had ever been published. The records revealed details about the last seconds of prisoners' lives and indicated the Virginia Department of Corrections may have tried to cover up one of the state's recent botched executions.
A former employee donated the four tapes and hundreds of other execution documents to the Library of Virginia more than a decade ago. But shortly after NPR aired the audio, something unusual happened. A representative from the Department of Corrections requested that the library give the records back. Within a week, the library complied. The collection is once again behind prison walls."
Click the electric chair main key to read and listen to NPR journalist Chiara Eisner's expose of these materials, which features a quote from yours truly, who also viewed and photographed many of them as well.
The Mercy Seat:
Author Dale M. Brumfield’s new book chronicles the abolishment of Virginia’s death penalty
26 MAY 2022
by Peter Galuzka
In 2015, Dale M. Brumfield, a veteran journalist and author, was finishing a masters degree in fine art in writing at Virginia Commonwealth University.
He learned of a prison inmate who escaped from Virginia to Florida, lived in a tent, and was caught after years of being on the lam. “I got interested in talking to him for a story,” recalls Brumfield in his small office at his home in rural Hanover County.
The interview didn’t work out, but Brumfield says he got hooked on criminal justice and the death penalty. Not only did he write a book about the now-demolished Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond, he became field director for Virginians Against the Death Penalty (VADP), an advocacy group that joined forces with other interested parties in abolishing capital punishment.
They were successful beyond their wildest dreams. In March of 2021, Virginia’s General Assembly voted to ban executions. It is the only state in the South to do so. “People had thought that this was far down the road. It caught everyone flat-footed,” he says.
Click the picture to read Peter Galuzka's profile of my work ending the death penalty and preparing the book "Closing the Slaughterhouse."
Confederate pride and the Chamber of Commerce: Richmond’s Lee statue finally gives up its time capsule secrets
28 DEC 2021
by Gregory Schneider
RICHMOND — Now we know the mundane truth of what literally lay at the root of this city’s grandiose monument to Gen. Robert E. Lee: Confederate pride, local commerce and a whole lot of Masonic tradition.
That was the preliminary message of dozens of items recovered Tuesday from a copper time capsule that had been buried at the monument site in 1887. Chamber of Commerce yearbooks, Masonic bylaws, artifacts from the Civil War, a brochure from a local real estate office (complete with a telephone number: 114) — all jam-packed into a copper box that did a surprisingly good job of weathering 134 years.
Click the picture to read Greg Schneider's excellent story about the successful opening of the elusive Lee time capsule.
The statue of Robert E. Lee is gone, but the mystery of the time capsule persists
9 SEPT 2021
RICHMOND — Robert E. Lee lost his lofty perch — but he's trying to hold on to his secrets.
Workers were stumped Thursday in their quest to find a time capsule supposedly planted at the base of the former Lee statue on this city’s Monument Avenue.
The bronze equestrian figure of Lee, the Confederacy’s most revered general, came down Wednesday and was hauled away in two pieces on a truck.
The 40-foot stone plinth remains in place, covered with colorful graffiti from last summer’s racial and social justice protests. And somewhere under that edifice — according to historical records — lies a time capsule.
Click the picture to read about our unsuccessful search for the elusive Lee time capsule
70 years later, a Richmond writer is trying to solve a Goochland cold case involving the death of a child
26 APRIL 2021
Seventy years ago, a highway worker on a crew cleaning litter from roadside ditches in Goochland County came upon a most gruesome discovery: the body of a young boy stuffed in a duffel bag.
The state medical examiner believed the boy to be 5 or 6 years old and estimated he had been dead for about a week, though at the site for a much shorter time, when he was found March 5, 1951, a few feet from state Route 670, just south of U.S. 250, near Oilville.
The case attracted considerable attention from law enforcement and news media, but it was never solved. The boy was never identified, and the official cause of death — if one were determined — was never announced publicly. No one seems to know where the child’s remains were buried.
In the realm of cold cases, this one is downright frigid and totally forgotten.
Click on the picture to read this excellent story by Bill Lohmann on my efforts to bring closure to this case (subscription may be required).
My longer story on my work on this case can be found at dalebrumfield.medium.com.
The Long Shadow of Virginia's Death Penalty
11 APRIL 2021
In a milestone that seemed to catch lawmakers themselves by surprise, Virginia had become the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty. The signing ceremony put racial justice front and center, casting the death penalty as a historical relic rooted in slavery and lynching. Introducing Gov. Ralph Northam, his chief legal counsel, Rita Davis, greeted the attendees with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” she said. “But today, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, it bends sharply towards justice.”
Click on the picture to read this excellent story by Liliana Segura on abolition in The Intercept.
Virginia next in line to abolish death penalty. What’s behind the shift?
12 MARCH 2021
Christian Science Monitor
In February, Virginia’s state legislature voted to abolish the death penalty – a significant change for a state that has executed more people than any other since its founding and is second only to Texas in executions since the late 1970s. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign the abolition into law any day now, making Virginia the 23rd state to end the death penalty, and the first state to do so in the South, an area that far surpasses all other regions in executions.
Click on the picture to read this story on abolition in the Christian Science Monitor
‘Legal lynching’: A VCU alumnus’ book tells the forgotten stories of the first 100 people sent to the electric chair in Virginia
11 SEPTEMBER 2020
This book was intended to be a sequel of sorts to my history of the Virginia State Penitentiary, which was released in 2017. That project allowed me to look into a few high-profile executions that took place in the penitentiary basement, where executions in the electric chair were centralized in 1908. There is possibly no class of Americans more maligned, marginalized and forgotten than executed prisoners, and in researching them I realized their entire lives were solely defined by a single criminal act (or alleged criminal act) and an execution. It is easy to forget they had lives beyond this one tragic event. They were fathers, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors and co-workers. The only attention they drew was when they testified in court, when they were executed, or worse, when a lynch mob was out for them. They deserved more.
Click on the picture to read my interview with VCU Public Relations.
VCU alumnus reveals 190-year history of Richmond’s notorious, iconic Virginia State Penitentiary
26 OCTOBER 2017
Virginia Commonwealth University Public Affairs
A new book by Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Dale Brumfield reveals the history of the Virginia State Penitentiary, that the ACLU at one time called the “most shameful prison in America.”
“Virginia State Penitentiary: A Notorious History” is the latest book by Brumfield, who earned a B.F.A. in painting from VCU’s School of the Arts in 1981 and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from VCU’s Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences in 2015.
Click on the picture to read the interview.
24 OCTOBER 2017
It might beggar belief 26 years later, but until it closed in 1991, the state penitentiary — then home to Virginia's electric chair — was at Belvidere and Spring streets, just across from Oregon Hill and barely a half mile from the heart of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Click on the picture by Scott Elmquist to read the story.
24 FEBRUARY 2017
A historic marker for the former Virginia State Penitentiary was unveiled and dedicated yesterday at Spring and Belvidere streets where the facility stood for 191 years.
“Thank you very much for coming to ... 500 Spring Street, a city within a city, for almost two centuries the most notorious address in Richmond,” said Dale M. Brumfield, the marker’s sponsor and an author who has a book coming out about the prison later this year.
Click on the picture to read the story.
Resolution recognizes local civil rights leader
11 FEB 2016
Kenbridge Victoria Dispatch
A resolution honoring Nathaniel Lee Hawthorne for his work as a civil rights leader in Lunenburg County has been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly.
Del. Tommy Wright, who proposed the resolution, is its patron in the House of Delegates. The resolution recognizes Hawthorne as “a passionate civil rights advocate who fought for justice and dignity for his fellow residents of Southside Virginia.”
Click the photo for the story of my work in getting recognition for this great man.
14 APRIL 2015
Believe it or not, RVA Mag was not the beginning. Much as we'd love to lay claim to having started it all, the history of independent press in Virginia goes back many years longer than the single decade we've been in operation--and Richmond-based author Dale Brumfield has chronicled a significant portion of that history in his new book, Independent Press In DC and Virginia: An Underground History (History Press). A sequel to his previous, RVA-focused volume, Richmond Independent Press: A History of the Underground Zine Scene, Independent Press In DC and Virginia will be released this weekend ...
Click the photo for the whole story.