As a member of the volunteer effort, I’m happy to see stories about the ongoing reclamation of East End and Evergreen cemeteries.
The story, however, needs correction. The Great Depression may have forced some African Americans to leave Richmond, but between 1930 and 1940, the “Negro” population increased, according to the U.S. Census from those years, from 52,988 to 61,251. (The Black population did decline from 1920 to 1930.) The main force affecting the lives of Black Virginians in the first half of the 20th century—and the community’s ability to maintain its cemeteries—was Jim Crow.
A sustained assault on African American rights and wealth, in Virginia and across the South, began immediately after the Civil War. The wholesale disenfranchisement of Black men—not to mention terrorism, implied and executed—meant that the community had no power over the public purse. White elites were free to use public money as they saw fit—to fund Confederate graves and monuments, for example—and to reassert their supremacy in all areas of civic life.
The Black community was under attack from many directions through institutional discrimination. It was starved of public resources. It’s no wonder its cemeteries suffered.
There are new developments in the cemetery situation. Evergreen Cemetery was recently sold to a small nonprofit called Enrichmond. East End is likely the next purchase. The Friends of East End Cemetery, of which I am a member, will hold a public meeting to discuss what’s happening at East End. (Details below.) We will update the community on the progress of the restoration effort and share our short- and long-term goals. Descendants and community members are invited to speak. We have also invited Enrichmond and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF), the state-chartered agency that will provide the conservation easement on the property, to say a few words and to answer questions from the public about their plans.
The Friends of East End Cemetery have been at work since the summer of 2013. The Evergreen Restoration Foundation is only a year old, but it has already clawed back a tremendous amount of that historic cemetery from nature. All of us stand on the shoulders of the people who launched earlier efforts, such as National Park Service Ranger Jim Bell. Such volunteer initiatives ended because public support didn’t follow. We’re hoping that funds the state has pledged to these efforts, through VOF and HB 1547, will go to the organizations actually doing the work of reclamation and restoration.
Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Time: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Location: Robinson Theater Community Arts Center, 2903 Q Street, Richmond
Top photo via brianpalmer.photos