Category Archives: FieldReport5

Student field reports from our visit to Evergreen Cemetery and East End Cemetery

East End and Evergreen Cemetery

The predominant theme that occurred to me while visiting  East End and Evergreen Cemeteries was the struggle for preservation of these historic sites in the face of the persistence of nature and intrusive human action. The heavily wooded expanse of the cemeteries at Evergreen and East End creates an almost surreal vision as the graves and markers are interspersed with the  natural world that has grown up around them, being swallowed by vines and leaves,  headstones turned on their sides from growing roots and the life that has sprung up around the site in its periods of neglect. This factor is compounded by the vandalizing actions undertaken by individuals at this site, where a lack of accessibility or and damage to the site is not only a factor created by nature but by human action which help to further diminish the prominence and general openness of the site to the public. I found myself questioning  the true need for preservation as I was informed of the extensive labor that the volunteers under take at these sites as well as the seemingly futile fight that they are undertaking against fast growing undergrowth and weeds that obscure so much of the cemetery. In many ways the envelopment of this site of death into the natural world seems to me to be the most natural thing possible, when a site has fallen into disuse and the families that have their ancestors buried there have long since stopped coming to mourn. Given premiums of valuable land near the city and the inevitability of natural processes that are at play, one can argue that letting grave sites that have fallen into disuse be reprocessed  back into the earth seems like a sensible solution to making efficient use of resources and property. However the this argument for letting the natural order of thing take their course is undercut by the historic significance of some of the graves and the knowledge and insight that can be gained from even the most obscure lives that are interred there. The small details of each individual headstone gives an insight into not only the individual but the nature of the culture and era which they came from. The grave markers at East End have many interesting features which shine a light on the nature of the world in which these people lived. There are markers indicating employment, religious affiliations, military service, and fraternal and social organizations which defined the lives of the individuals located at East End and Evergreen. These details of association and social structure hold valuable information that can be useful in ancestral research and broader historical research, however I have to wonder if continual preservation of these neglected sites is needed or simply thorough digital and archival documentation that can be more easily utilized for research purposes than a physical site that will have a persistent problem with natural processes and fluctuating public interest and involvement. The presence of prominent historical figures at the site like Maggie Walker make strong counter arguments for the preservation of these sites and the seemingly neglected and ignored nature of the sites in the pantheon of Richmond Cemeteries.  The nature of Maggie Walkers grave site, high upon the precipice of a hill certainly helps to convey her social status and role in the Black Richmond Community during the late 19th and early 20th centuries that is best understood by being present at the site.  The Walker Family plot remains one of the most well preserved sites at the cemetery and clearly shows the most continual care and upkeep of any other site in the cemetery. However perhaps due to the presence of prominent members of the  black Richmond community, the site has become a focus for seemingly racist vandalism at the Braxton mausoleum that perhaps would not be so easily done if the efforts to preserve the site did not create the level of accessibility that allows the grave sites to be as easily found or  traveled too. This raises issues related to what is the proper role for us to take as the living caretakers of these sites. Do we preserve them for our own interests, drawing in the outside world to these sites, or perhaps let them be secluded resting places for the dead and their families, and let the natural processes of nature occur in way that may obscure but may ultimately be a more respectful approach to not interfering with sites that are not ours in the first place? The juxtaposition between the acts of preservation and the acts of destruction that have occurred at East End and Evergreen  show how cemeteries are treated in our society, where the living take in some ways  what may maybe seen as unjust privileges with the dead, that views their remains as some sort of public symbol or asset, utilizing them as a historical resource or a target for expressing long held animosities within our cultures.  The mutilation of corpses and desecration of the Braxton mausoleum gave me serious pause to consider if we as living outsiders are entitled to interact with these sites for our own purposes and if even noble endeavors of attempting preservation and historical recognition is in someway an intrusion or an act of trespass upon sacred ground meant for family and loved ones.

Evergreen Cemetery

Many efforts of conservation and rehabilitationn have been made to the grounds at Evergreen Cemetery. When you first enter the cemetery it is an open piece of land, after many hours of work volunteers were able to clear out the space where current burials are stilll taking place. However when you turn the corner, going deeper into the cemetery, it continues to get thicker and more unkept. Because the cemetery seemed to have been forgotten about over the years it became a place of vandalism. Vandalism has always been an issue when  looking at burial grounds and cemeteries. Vandalism over time in cemeteries has mostly been accredited to young people who claim their acts have been from boredom or curiousness.

Located close to the focal point of the cemetery, where Maggie L.  Walker is buried, in the brush we are able to see the only masoleum that is located in the cemetery. Because this is the only mausoleum locted within the cemetery it has been a point of focus, especially with vandalizers. Over the years the masoleum has been broken into numerous times. John Shuck brought to our attention that when he began volunteering at Evergreen the mausoleum was in a lot better shape than it stands in today. However over recent years the cemetery has seen an increased amount of vandalism within the site. Now looking at the mausoleum we see a huge whole within the front of the crypt, where one could see almost the entirety of the inside of the mausoleum. We also are able to see that the coffins within the mausoleum have been moved around within it as well as opened, exposin the bones o the family that lays there. It has also been the center of attention in someone’s blog post where the person decided to go into the mausoleum and take a closer look at what was on the inside.

Looking more into the vadalism that has occured at Evergreen, it is believed to start occurring more frequently during the Civil Rights Era. Because Evergreen Cemetery is a  historic African American cemetery it would make sense that many racist whites during this time would have decided to desecrate the graves of African Americans that were once part of the community here in Richmond. Over the recent years however the acts of vandalism have now been produced by teenagers and young adults who find that exploring an empty cemetery in the late night hours is something that would be an interesting thing to do in order to pass the time.

My question with these acts of vandalism would be, how are volunteers or the City of Richmond able to decrease the amount of vandalism that takes place within the cemetery. The first step in combatting the vandalism within this cemetery would be to continue and upkeep the work efforts that the volunteers, like Shuck, put into the cemetery. The more effort that is put into restoring the grounds the more it seems as if this place is something of importance, not only to the family members of the deceased but also to the city. However this would be the hardest task of all, simply because not many people know of the drastic conditions in which Evergreen sits in. Before taking this class I personally had never heard of Evergreen cemetery or the need for volunteers to help keep the cemetery from running more into the ground. I believe something that would greatly benefit the cemetery would be the advertisement of the need for volunteers from the communit to come out to help continue the processes tht have already been started. With the advertisement of the issues faced by the cemtery it may draw in more volunteers.

East End Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery

Our visit to East End Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery last week provided the most obvious display of contrast between the upkeep of different cemeteries that our class has seen over the duration of this semester. While the African Burial Ground represented several hundred years of cultural loss and an evident lack of historical respect for its buried dead, the disrespectful states of East End Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery represented a different time period of racial disparity. Overall, the disrepair of East End and Evergreen Cemeteries seems to show how much a cemetery’s state can change in a relatively short amount of time and thus highlighting the importance of volunteer groups in combating community apathy or unawareness, which clearly affects a cemeteries like Evergreen or East End more than a cemetery like Shockoe Hill. Despite the dedicated volunteer efforts at Shockoe Hill, Evergreen, and East End alike, I believe that the location of East End and Evergreen Cemeteries, which is itself a reflection of racial history, has a large impact on the strength of volunteer efforts.

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the importance of the group Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery in maintaining the historical and cultural dignity of a cemetery like Shockoe Hill. While the cemetery has suffered from neglect in the past, which has done its share of damage to the cemetery’s state which will require more aid from volunteers in the future, Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery has done remarkable work in refurbishing the cemetery so that its historical points of interest can be more easily and readily be appreciated by the community. However, East End Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery, despite featuring historically significant graves like those of Maggie Walker and John Mitchell, Jr., is yet to reach a state of repair anywhere near that of Shockoe Hill Cemetery. While we observed some gravestone damage in Shockoe Hill Cemetery, we were unable to even see many of the gravestones at East End Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery. This is in part to due to overgrowth surrounding the graves themselves, but also due to the fact that many entire areas were unreachable by foot. On our tour, several parts of the cemetery, including its boundaries, could only be described to us as being beyond a certain distance or behind a certain segment of trees.

So why is Shockoe Hill Cemetery in such different condition than either of the other two, despite the dedicated volunteer efforts to maintain all of them? In my view it probably has a lot to do with the cemetery’s location, which is itself a reflection of its racial history. Personally, Evergreen and East East End Cemeteries were the only two cemeteries that we visited this semester so far that I had not once passed by on my own since moving to Richmond four years ago. I can only imagine how this affects volunteer efforts to maintain the cemetery. Although Shockoe Hill Cemetery is not exactly in downtown Richmond, it takes up a significant block in the city’s north side that is accessible with relative ease by car from different parts of downtown Richmond. It is also across the street from the Hebrew Cemetery, which is clearly visible from the interstate. On the other hand, Evergreen Cemetery and East End Cemetery require a drive down the interstate to reach, and are then obscured by trees. Unfortunate as it may be, I think it’s inevitable that such a location will require more effort just to attract volunteers.

This is not to discount the successful efforts made by volunteers at Evergreen Cemetery and East End Cemetery. Well-kept online logs of volunteer schedules and progress indicate a constant care for maintaining the cemeteries, and the difference in conditions between 2013 and 2016 alone show how much work has been put into clearing the grounds of the cemeteries. Additionally, despite the cemeteries’ location possibly alienating potential volunteers, I think the cemeteries have and will continue to benefit from recent surges in conversations regarding racial justice in America. Like the article “Black Deaths Matter” pointed out, the problem of poorly-maintained black cemeteries can be found all over the country, and in response, the efforts to reclaim these cemeteries will ultimately help preserve a cultural history that is just as important as that of cemeteries like Shockoe Hill.

Evergreen Cemetery: History in Destruction

There is a long and eventful history of disrespect shown towards Richmond’s African Burial Ground, interest aimed at enhancing the historic site came to be when protests formed to prevent VCU from paving over a portion of the grounds to create a parking lot. Due to the numerous reuses, construction, and environmental transformations seen atop the burial site, it would almost be impossible for excavation. The site has now be converted into a field with a memorial marker and placed as site on the Richmond Slave Trail. As many historical aspects to site and to African-American history had been lost, Richmond is in danger of losing yet another historical site at the Evergreen Cemetery.

The grounds at Evergreen Cemetery contain a rich history and the burials of thousands of African-Americans. Although notable figures like Maggie Walker and John Mitchell are buried here, the level of respect deserving to the individuals here is deficient. The grounds have been constantly abused. Trespassers have knocked over and broken several markers throughout the cemetery.

The Braxton family’s mausoleum provides one of the best examples of how horribly the cemetery has been treated by the public. After smashing a hole into the side of a wall, the family’s caskets where opened and their bodies pulled out. It seems the mausoleum was repaired only to have it broken and ravaged again.IMG_6091

The destruction of the cemetery by man is not the only factor contributing to the attack on this site’s struggle for survival. Nature has almost completely taken over the area. The ivy and kudzu plants have spread throughout the cemetery and make many burial markers not visible. These plants are ranked some of the highest for the level of invasiveness according to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The best away to prevent the growth of these invasive plants is early detection and removal. Since the growth of the vegetation has almost completely taken over the area, the only option left is removal. This is no easy task without large amounts of herbicides and relying only on manpower.

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As Evergreen Cemetery is a private cemetery, there is barely any help from the state to maintain the grounds and is done primarily through the help from volunteers. Finances for perpetual care of the grounds was not well established through the original organization responsible, and the maintenance of the graves was left in the hands of the families of the buried there.

It is most probable not the families own the graves either died off or moved north during the Great Migration. The untamed wildlife took over the grounds and resulting in dense vegetation. Although there seems to be steady efforts from volunteers, more manpower and finances are needed to keep up with the spreading wildlife. It is very apparent where work has been done and where it has not, but it seems that by the time volunteer groups clear out an area, the previously area worked on has already grown back exponentially and the groups can not keep up. The volunteer groups not only struggle with clearing out the natural vegetation, but are also still having problems with litter. Areas near roadways are subject to waste dumped by trespassers.

The history that can be found at Evergreen Cemetery is endangered of potentially being lost to nature and the victim of being destroyed by man. With more attention and dedication to restoring the grounds, the cemetery could serve as place to remember and honor the past, which it should be. The site is loaded with information pertaining to Richmond’s history and African-American history as a whole. It would be a disgrace to let the cemetery remain in the current condition or allow it to get worse.

East End and Evergreen Cemetery

Driving into The Four Cemeteries at Evergreen: Evergreen, East End, the colored section of Oakwood and the Colored Pauper’s Cemetery, of which we visited East End and Evergreen,  I had to manipulate my small car down the pothole littered road.  Being no real parking I just pulled along side the ditch as best I could. The very wooded lot revealed gravesites that had been recently cleared of debris and over growth. Yet many burial sites were noticeable just beyond the cleared area into the woods and further in the growth just got thicker until you could no longer see any sites just a blanket of over growth. Gravesites ranged from family sites with mini iron gate enclosures to plots that were no more the an indention in the ground and if lucky the occupant was identified by the courtesy marker of whichever funeral home had buried them there. The markers that were there and had been cleared displayed the love that was afforded to the deceased from those that buried them there back in the day when Evergreen had been hoped to be the “African American equivalent of the Richmond’s high-style cemetery for whites.”, as quoted from Selden Richardson’s Built By Blacks, but that had just sadly been lost to time and mother nature. This grouping of cemeteries established in 1897 lay claim to be the final resting place to many prominent African Americans: Rosa Bower, Maggie Walker, A.D. Price, and John Mitchell, Jr. Thousands of others who stories are not as well told or even lost to time can be found laid to rest here also. Having changed hands many times the ownership of these two, Evergreen and East End,  cemeteries of the four remain under private ownership of individuals that just don’t see the importance of and history behind these places and have let them slip so far into disrepair that they do not have the monetary means or manpower to reclaim this place to the beauty it once had and the very few burials that still take place in Evergreen are a sad site and in no way supply the funds needed for the  upkeep. Here is where we all come in. Our tour was lead by Mr. John Shuck who has been a full time volunteer and lead in the reclamation process for many years. He told us how ALL the work is done by volunteers with very minimal help coming from Henrico County or the City of Richmond. Henrico County does provide debris removal when called for of larger tree debris and such.  When I arrived for our tour I was a bit early and got to actually help in the clearing out process a bit.  I worked with two other volunteers, Bryan and Erin, who actually bounce between Brooklyn and Richmond and have made volunteering with John at East End and Evergreen a pet project of theirs and both were extremely welcoming and knowledgeable of the cemeteries and their histories. Their are many other volunteers from the community and groups from nearby schools and organizations that help out. Volunteers normally work weekends for about 2-3 hours and are asked to wear sturdy shoes and I would suggest pants as there is poison ivy and such sporadically in the woods.  The volunteer pamphlet I received also suggests bringing water and gloves and small clearing equipment like clippers and rakes although they do have a few of these things available. Until African American burial grounds get the recognition they deserve and famous black Americans are as notable as say famous Civil War participants I feel like the money will not be allocated by the government or big businesses to bring these cemeteries back to their original beauty and that the future of places like Evergreen and East End truly do lie in the hands of the Volunteers. John Shuck can be contacted at Jshuck@rocketmail.com  www.facebook.com/jgshuck      www.twitter.com/findagrave

Evergreen Cemetery & East End Cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery and neighboring East End Cemetery were the premiere burial sites for Richmond’s African American community in the early 20th century.  No pictures are known to exist from the cemeteries’ zenith but one can imagine what they may have looked like.  Mausoleums and obelisk-style gravestones dot the grounds.  Bits of cast-iron fencing still stand marking family plots.  Some large monuments to the more famous internments have been mostly cleaned and restored.  These characteristics suggest that at one point Evergreen Cemetery held its own amongst Richmond’s grandiose, predominantly white (and whites-only) cemeteries.  Today Evergreen is in shambles.  Walking the grounds instills a feeling of melancholy and leaves visitors feeling despondent.  I couldn’t help but ask myself why throughout my entire visit.  Why was the cemetery in such a state of overgrown disarray?  Why isn’t more being done here to reclaim and preserve a pivotal piece of Richmond’s history?  Why wasn’t this cemetery established in a way that ensured its longevity and upkeep?

For a variety of reasons, Evergreen Cemetery and East End Cemetery were established without perpetual care funds, as we’ve seen with several of Richmond’s better-kept cemeteries.  It was left to the families of the deceased to care for the plots.  Evergreen Cemetery was becoming popular during a period of complex racial relations.  Black people were disenfranchised and struggling under Jim Crow laws, but some were achieving status in Richmond, international notoriety and strong ties within their community.  This enabled initial success for Evergreen and East End, but as black families traveled north for financial reasons or died off for one reason or another, fewer individuals were left to tend to the plots.  I imagine that in most cases, the people buried at Evergreen and East End are far from forgotten but are victims of tragic circumstance.  For this reason, I struggle to understand why more hasn’t been done in recent years to reclaim and preserve these decrepit sites.

I was unable to meet with John Shuck when the class visited the cemeteries, but I’ve seen him speak on several occasions and spoke with him once about his reclamation efforts at their peak in 2013.  They were really making incredible strides and had cleared several acres of overgrowth, trash, and rubble from vandalism in a relatively short period of time.  I remember being very inspired by his enthusiasm and optimism with the project.  The entire thing would have taken decades but they were on a roll, especially because several other miscellaneous institutions had taken a philanthropic interest in the effort.  Since this class has started, however, I’ve discovered that volunteer cleanup efforts at Evergreen have ceased and been moved wholesale over to East End Cemetery (which still needs an awful lot of love, but I digress).  Because of the ever-complicated relationship between Evergreen Cemetery and its owner, Shuck was forced to cease reclamation and preservation last year and move to the neighboring grounds.

Evergreen Cemetery is the resting place of about 5,000 individuals including important historical figures that paved the way for healthier race relations in Richmond.  Even with several years of remarkably dedicated cleaning, the cemetery is a mess.  It is heartbreaking and an embarrassment to our city.  Several years ago John Shuck spoke in passing about the city stepping in to help take control of the situation and ramp up preservation.  I thought it was peculiar at the time; why weren’t more people calling on the local government to clean up this humiliating bit of forgotten history?   Why did he seem so unenthused?  After visiting the grounds and learning how reclamation efforts unfolded at Evergreen, I’m beginning to understand Shuck’s lack of interest in government-aid.  If the city knew this was happening at Evergreen the entire time and failed to do anything about it before the situation grew out of control (literally), why would they start now when funds are tighter than ever?

I hope to see some kind of volunteer effort start up at Evergreen in the near future.  Regardless of the way the cemetery was established, its place in history and many inhabitants deserve proper commemorating and care.

Evergreen and East End

It is hard to come up with the correct words and phrases to describe East End and Evergreen Cemeteries. Desolate. Abandoned. Bleak. But mostly, I think sad is the all-encompassing word I would choose to describe Evergreen.  The state of the land, with fallen trees, uncleared brush, and poison ivy crawling up trees, sticking out close enough to infect people unlucky to walk by, was sad. The state of the graves, the few that survived, was sad. And most of all, I think everyone who walked through the grounds were also sad. Throughout my time as a history major, I’ve been taught that it is okay to be emotional, passionate over a subject, but the emotion should not and could not translate into any written work. All assertions must be proved by facts, not feelings; charged, emotional words have no place in academic writing. Yet, the state of Evergreen makes me question that line of thought. Maybe some topics deserve a strong, emotional response and have a place in scholarly discourse.

When arriving at the Cemetery, I had a plan of action. I was going to try to find my grandfather’s grandmother. Working off of a little information (she passed in the forties and her last name was either Wilma Wilkerson or Jude, and she was probably buried in Evergreen), I thought maybe I would find her grave, make a connection to my biological and cultural past. About five minutes into our time at East End, I gave up and felt a sense of dismay and disgust. I knew it was going to be bad, I was just not aware of how bad. After the trip, I asked my (white, native Richmonder) mother where he relatives were buried. She knew where everyone was for generations. The Nation’s article “Black Deaths Matter” states “memorials to white lives are left in trust; collective memorials to black lives fall into the red financially and slip from view”. This is a fact readily apparent in the historic cemeteries of Richmond – the difference between them is remarkable.

The work of the volunteers hoping to give Evergreen and East End a new life has been amazing. It is different, but still in the same vein, than the work done at Shockoe Cemetery. I am reminded of how a member of the Friends of Shockoe Cemetery said Richmond should feel ashamed of how we let Shockoe fall into disrepair. If we are supposed to be ashamed of Shockoe, what should we feel about Evergreen? I don’t have an answer. Though I would suggest Brian and Erin Palmer’s photo-essay/article “Reclaiming Black History, One Grave at a Time” (http://www.thenation.com/article/reclaiming-black-history-one-grave-at-a-time/); it is a great read, with wonderful images and gives a little more backstory on the history of East End and the volunteer efforts to restore some of its former dignity.

It is interesting how the funerary industry had become so large after the Civil War (as seen in the Plater reading from last week), yet, the product of that industry (the cemetery) has fallen apart so completely. I’m not going to speculate why Evergreen is the way it is (literally, look at my other three posts, they are all about race and invisibility in Richmond!), but instead focus on the result of the run-down nature of the cemetery. Although it is covered in overgrown plants, and most of the grave markers are gone, one can imagine how grand it used to look. Think of how large it is, with its natural landscape. It would have been striking. Yet, it is another example of lost black entrepreneurship in Richmond. Jackson Ward used to be called the Harlem of the South – Evergreen used to be considered beautiful enough for Maggie L. Walker to be buried there.

Field Report 5, The Outskirts

After our trip to Evergreen and East End Cemeteries, it would be difficult to not draw comparisons between these and Hollywood. Hollywood was originally set on the outskirts of the city before the city expanded to surround it. Evergreen is in fact inside the cities borders, and East End is set just outside the city of Richmond however in their case the city didn’t expand in that direction to include them. Hollywood has walkways and drivable roads set amongst rolling hills of green grass and trees speckled amongst the well maintained family plots. Evergreen and East End have hills, it has green and it has plots; however the hills that these two have are completely covered in dead leaves, new growth and briar bushes that stick the legs anyone venturing into the unknown. The green that these two cemeteries have is comprised not of lush green grass but instead by overgrown trees that tower over the undergrowth of new ferns and poison ivy. Lastly, the plots that make up Evergreen and East end, compared to Hollywood, these two… they have plots and a few of them have been fenced in to establish their plot from the others but that is where the similarities end. In Hollywood, the family plots are organized with names of the people buried there, they are maintained, the majority of the graves can be read and all of the graves in Hollywood are upright. This is not the case at Evergreen and East End; a few families have fences around their gravesites here and if they are it is not in the same the lavish way they appear in their cross-town counterparts ploys. The few plots in Evergreen and East End that managed to be fenced did so with very plain iron or with stacked cinderblocks. Many of the individual graves in these two cemeteries were impossible to make out or completely toppled over by the overgrowth or fallen tree limbs.

All of this being said, it isn’t a hard ask to imagine these two cemeteries in their hay day minus the overgrowth and trash. Both are located in what would have been nice areas along a creek and rolling hills. In addition to the once beautiful scenery, many prominent black Richmonders are buried here, people like Maggie Walker and her family, John Mitchell Jr. and his family. These people are in large part what helped to give our city its history. Walker and Mitchell’s plots are located next to each other in Evergreen on the top of the tallest hill in the area, Walker’s memorial is a large cross that would have been able to been seen from anywhere in the cemetery. It would have been a beacon of hope amongst a city that needed it. Now it is a symbol of a hope that lies in an all but forgotten patch of land outside of the city dump. So that leads to the bigger question of how did these two cemeteries fall into such disarray? There are many different potential answers to this question. One is the fact that these are primarily burial grounds for blacks and the city’s track record with such things isn’t very bright. This aside, Evergreen is privately owned by what was once a corporation but is now just a single man. Without financial help, a cemetery, especially a rural cemetery, will be reclaimed by nature. It was promising to see the work that John Shuck and the volunteers put into these two historic areas but the battle is much more than a handful of people can take on. It was disheartening to go down to the area in Evergreen that they had cleared before moving up to East End because it had already begun to overgrow again. These people clearly need help, whether it be from the state, local churches or the owners son; without help from somewhere, a large piece of Richmond history could be lost to time and nature.

Field Report 5, The Outskirts

After our trip to Evergreen and East End Cemeteries, it would be difficult to not draw comparisons between these and Hollywood. Hollywood was originally set on the outskirts of the city before the city expanded to surround it. Evergreen is in fact inside the cities borders, and East End is set just outside the city of Richmond however in their case the city didn’t expand in that direction to include them. Hollywood has walkways and drivable roads set amongst rolling hills of green grass and trees speckled amongst the well maintained family plots. Evergreen and East End have hills, it has green and it has plots; however the hills that these two have are completely covered in dead leaves, new growth and briar bushes that stick the legs anyone venturing into the unknown. The green that these two cemeteries have is comprised not of lush green grass but instead by overgrown trees that tower over the undergrowth of new ferns and poison ivy. Lastly, the plots that make up Evergreen and East end, compared to Hollywood, these two… they have plots and a few of them have been fenced in to establish their plot from the others but that is where the similarities end. In Hollywood, the family plots are organized with names of the people buried there, they are maintained, the majority of the graves can be read and all of the graves in Hollywood are upright. This is not the case at Evergreen and East End; a few families have fences around their gravesites here and if they are it is not in the same the lavish way they appear in their cross-town counterparts ploys. The few plots in Evergreen and East End that managed to be fenced did so with very plain iron or with stacked cinderblocks. Many of the individual graves in these two cemeteries were impossible to make out or completely toppled over by the overgrowth or fallen tree limbs.

All of this being said, it isn’t a hard ask to imagine these two cemeteries in their hay day minus the overgrowth and trash. Both are located in what would have been nice areas along a creek and rolling hills. In addition to the once beautiful scenery, many prominent black Richmonders are buried here, people like Maggie Walker and her family, John Mitchell Jr. and his family. These people are in large part what helped to give our city its history. Walker and Mitchell’s plots are located next to each other in Evergreen on the top of the tallest hill in the area, Walker’s memorial is a large cross that would have been able to been seen from anywhere in the cemetery. It would have been a beacon of hope amongst a city that needed it. Now it is a symbol of a hope that lies in an all but forgotten patch of land outside of the city dump. So that leads to the bigger question of how did these two cemeteries fall into such disarray? There are many different potential answers to this question. One is the fact that these are primarily burial grounds for blacks and the city’s track record with such things isn’t very bright. This aside, Evergreen is privately owned by what was once a corporation but is now just a single man. Without financial help, a cemetery, especially a rural cemetery, will be reclaimed by nature. It was promising to see the work that John Shuck and the volunteers put into these two historic areas but the battle is much more than a handful of people can take on. It was disheartening to go down to the area in Evergreen that they had cleared before moving up to East End because it had already begun to overgrow again. These people clearly need help, whether it be from the state, local churches or the owners son; without help from somewhere, a large piece of Richmond history could be lost to time and nature.

The Nagging Question

Hundreds of young trees dominated the underlying graves of East End Cemetery. East End was not manicured nor was clear where the cemetery began and where it ended. However, despite the overgrowth and disorder of the headstones, there was an unmistakable beauty in the midst of it all. One could see life progressing, whilst the dead were returned to Earth. Others would disagree and see nature’s second burial as a disservice to the dead. However, I found the budding plants to be a more fitting tribute, than the orderly stones and flat lawns associated with graveyards. This image led me to reexamine a question the class was asked on our first meeting. Should society actively preserve cemeteries, or is the dilapidation of graveyards apart of the natural order of a cemetery’s life?

At East End Cemetery volunteers spent countless hours unearthing headstones. Through which the group managed to create a decent resting place for the dead. I in no way wanted to discredit them or imply that their efforts were pointless. As a history major it was a struggle to determine whether or not graveyards needed to be preserved. One part of me desired to emphatically state: the safeguarding all history was important, we should maintain what was left to us in the present, we have much to learn from the tangible reminders of the past, etc. Yet another side of me wrestled with what that entailed. With over 7 billion people alive today, there would be over 7 billion deaths in years to come. The dead should be treated with respect, but humanity should not overrun the natural landscape to do so . After I came to this conclusion, something still felt inherently wrong about the condition of East End Cemetery. Then I realized the issue with the state of this cemetery was not the overgrowth of the area, but a disheartening commonality found between East End and others gravesites like it. It echoed the faded signs and sparse signage the class witnessed at the African Burial Ground. The graveyards predominantly composed of minority groups we visited were not being maintained with the same deference as their counterparts.

Many of the historical cemeteries in Richmond, were not open to African Americans. Segregation was still practiced throughout the South up until the 60’s. Even in death the races were divided. East End enabled the African Community that lived in Richmond to be buried with dignity. Various individuals purchased plots at the gravesite. According to our guide, the Cemetery was created with the attention of rivaling the landscape of Hollywood Cemetery. Since the city was not willing to provide African American’s with a decent burial place, the African American Community built its own cemetery. Unfortunately the preservation of the graveyard proved to be rather difficult, since it was private property. Moreover those buried at East End did not have the option of purchasing continuous maintenance for grounds. As families moved away, or passed away, the gravesites at East End fell into disrepair. At one time the surrounding forest absorbed approximately 16 acres of graves. Nonetheless, years of effort from sympathetic volunteers resulted in a peaceful resting place, clear of much of the derby and unruly vegetation.

For hundreds of years African Americans were denied the basic rights of human being. When African Americans were buried, they were given unwanted landscapes. Such areas were naked to the dangers of robbery and the natural elements. East End was an opportunity to put an end to this humiliation. Regrettably the Cemetery was still overgrown on our visit and in some areas littered with trash. The city stated that it could do nothing about the area because it was private property. This argument was understandable, but I failed to see why the African Burial Ground and similar sites also received such minimalist approach. I was not bothered by the forest reclaiming the land, but by the deliberate display of inequality. As a prominent historical city, Richmond should take an interest in the silenced communities that helped to create it.