Open Letter to Governor Northam Regarding Richmond’s African American Cemeteries

This morning, descendants of people laid to rest in our city’s historic African American burial grounds, as well as members of the broader Black community, sent Governor Northam an open letter expressing their concerns about alarming developments at East End and Evergreen Cemeteries in Richmond and Henrico County.

We invite you to read the full letter, but we include an excerpt here:

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) has announced that it is giving a grant of $150,000—in taxpayer money—to Parity LLC (aka Enrichmond) to acquire land that is adjacent to Evergreen and East End. The process by which Parity came to own those sacred sites was not transparent, and its stewardship of the cemeteries, as we have stated, has been deeply problematic.

Enrichmond is now negotiating special-access agreements for Colored Paupers Cemetery and a portion of Oakwood, both of which are owned by the City of Richmond. We ask that you halt this process as well as the transfer of public funds to Enrichmond/Parity until these vital steps are taken:

• A proper cultural landscape report for all the cemeteries in question is produced and reviewed by the relevant authorities.
• The Commonwealth provides all due diligence and other material upon which it has based its decision to subsidize and support Enrichmond/Parity’s acquisition of African American burial grounds.
• Public meetings are convened to allow the community to deliberate on the future of these sacred sites with all of the necessary information in hand.

Finally, we ask that we be integrated into ongoing discussions, planning, and activities related to sacred sites in which our ancestors have been laid to rest based on the nationally recognized rubric of best practices, “Engaging Descendant Communities in the Interpretation of Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites,” created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and James Madison’s Montpelier.

We would like to work with your administration to review these practices and then determine how they might be applied to the burial grounds here in Richmond. Fundamentally, we seek a direct and inclusive engagement with your administration and local authorities regarding these burial grounds. We would like to work with you to create robust and varied methods to open durable lines of communication and resolve ongoing tensions; improve transparency regarding African American burial grounds; inform and include the descendant community in planning and decision-making for our ancestral sites; and develop best practices for the reclamation and preservation of these burial grounds. We would also like to discuss the reinterment and memorialization of the remains found at East End Cemetery.

East End Cemetery, 7 February 2021; photo by Brian Palmer

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