In the news

Richmond withholding money for Enrichmond Foundation after concerns raised about management, oversight of historic Black cemeteries

Descendants of people buried in two historic Black cemeteries in the Richmond area are demanding more accountability from local and state officials and the foundation that owns the burial grounds.

Paying Respect

A coalition urges the governor to investigate Enrichmond’s operation of historic cemeteries

Richmond and Its Neglected Black Cemeteries (op-ed, page 13)

On March 10, a group of descendants of people laid to rest at Richmond’s historic African American cemeteries, along with members of the broader Black community, sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam and other officials. They made specific requests of the governor, among them that he halt the transfer of $150,000 of taxpayer money to Parity LLC to buy property in the East End. Parity is the real estate arm of the Enrichmond Foundation, a white-led organization that acquired Evergreen Cemetery in 2017 and East End Cemetery in 2019 with significant monetary, administrative, and political support from the state.

Another request was to stop the City of Richmond from signing agreements with Enrichmond/Parity that would have given it control of two more Black cemeteries, Colored Paupers and a section of Oakwood, both owned by the city. The Stoney administration informed the letter writers this week that it would not pursue those agreements.

This is very good news.

But it’s not a full response to the descendants’ letter, nor to a fundamental plea that citizens have been making for years: we need accountability, transparency, and genuine community engagement when it comes to these cemeteries….

virginia genealogical society NEWSLETTER – March 2021
New East End Cemetery Archive Documents Black Lives

When work to reclaim East End Cemetery began in summer 2013, all but a few plots in the sixteen-acre burial ground had disappeared from view, engulfed by dense tangles of vines and illegally dumped trash. In the place of a cemetery, a forest had grown, rendering roads impassable and graves inaccessible to families.

By spring 2020, when our on-site work was disrupted first by the pandemic and then by East End’s new owner, most of the cemetery had been cleared, and more than 3,300 grave markers had been recovered and documented….

Calls for Investigation into Historic Black Cemeteries’ Operation

Halt the transfer of public money to the Richmond-based Enrichmond Foundation until an investigation can be conducted into the foundation’s ownership and operation of two historic Black cemeteries on the city’s eastern border with Henrico County.

That’s the request that was issued Wednesday to Gov. Ralph S. Northam.

The request was made in a three-page letter issued by a new 40-member coalition that includes relatives and descendants of people buried in the historic Evergreen and East End cemeteries that were established in the 1890s….

East End’s Letter to Governor Northam

If you’ve followed this web site’s news section, you’ve seen our consternation and disappointment regarding the Enrichmond Foundation’s management of Evergreen and East End Cemeteries. Enrichmond was ill-equipped to steward these two critical and fragile properties, but state agencies and politicians threw them in Enrichmond’s lap after 2016 without much of a plan. Since then, we have witnessed the predictable results, including the ejection of longtime volunteer groups who had helped bring the cemeteries forward with great care….

RACE CAPITOL – March 2021
Reclamation East End: Resisting the Recreation Plantation

This week on Race Capitol, tune in to our latest: “Reclamation East End: Resisting the Recreation Plantation,” where we dive into an in-depth interview with Brian Palmer of the Friend of the East End, about his entry into the work of reclaiming East End Cemetery and archiving Richmond Black history. The cemetery has over 15,000 people buried there and is at risk of becoming a new bike lane and green space, per the Enrichmond plan. The Enrichmond master plan is lacking the critical preservation component that would ensure the evidence of Black existence and resistance isn’t buried under gentrification to come.

The Lives of East End: Recovering African American Burial Grounds

Somewhere in Virginia, in tangles of fast-growing birch and poison ivy, the archive of an entire people is in danger of disappearing. 

For generations, thousands of historic Black cemeteries have languished in forgotten forests and at the ends of dirt roads all over the American South. Sunk in odd acreages or corseted beneath modern powerlines, the dead wait, their monuments crowned in bees’ hum. Perhaps you’ve driven or hiked past these overgrown spaces without knowing what they are. Repositories of memory. Portals to long-lost worlds. Many of the elders buried here were born into slavery, survived the Civil War, and built vibrant communities in freedom. Now, their descendants have dispersed like dandelion clocks, traveling in vast constellations of knowing and not-knowing….

America Seen

Historic African American cemeteries can offer a path into the past where conventional routes — archives, photo libraries, family lore — simply stop.

In Need of Repair

Since acquiring two historic African American cemeteries, Enrichmond has been at odds with the volunteer group that has worked for years to restore and document the neglected sites.

New Digital Map Expands Access to One of Virginia’s Historic African American Cemeteries

An interactive map of East End Cemetery, a historic African American burial ground in Henrico County, Virginia, is now available online. The map is the first digital initiative of the East End Cemetery Collaboratory, a learning community composed of faculty and staff from the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University and members of the Friends of East End Cemetery.

The searchable map, which also works on phones and tablets, now makes it possible to pinpoint the exact position of grave markers at the once overgrown cemetery. 

Built by University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, Department of Geography and the Environment, and Spatial Analysis Lab, the map features drone-captured imagery and GPS data points collected by hundreds of students and volunteers organized by the Friends of East End.

Accountability Needed over Owner of Historic African American Cemeteries

I’m not from Richmond, but I have kin in the ground at East End Cemetery, which is adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery. Henry Tunstall, infant son of my grandfather’s sister, was buried there in 1913.

My wife, Erin, and I have been volunteering at the cemetery since late 2014 and are founding members of the Friends of East End Cemetery, the group doing the hard work of reclamation. We were mystified when, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, a state agency, secretly tapped the Enrichmond Foundation in 2016 to acquire both Evergreen and East End cemeteries.

East End Goes the Way Things Go

Today I attended the court hearing which ruled on the Enrichmond Foundation’s request to acquire East End Cemetery. It was a depressing spectacle.

REVEAL – December 2018
Monumental Lies

NEW YORK TIMES – January 2017
For the Forgotten African American Dead

Neglected black cemeteries deserve the same level of care that their Confederate counterparts get.

THE NATION – October 2015
Reclaiming Black History, One Grave at a Time

Photojournalist Brian Palmer documents the effort to restore a Virginia cemetery overtaken by trash and brush during years of official neglect.

BBC – September 2015
Restoring a Segregated Cemetery Lost to the Woods

East End Cemetery was once a dignified final resting spot for prominent black citizens in the Richmond Virginia area.

In the days of segregated cemeteries, East End was lovingly maintained. But it has since fallen into disrepair.

Now a group of concerned citizens are trying to reclaim the space and the memories of those who are laid to rest there.