MLK Day of Service at East End

Volunteers load up the wagon with brush to haul to the road on a recent workday at East End Cemetery. Photo by Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos

We hope you’ll join us on Monday, January 15 — Dr. King’s 89th birthday — for a day of service at East End. It’s going to be cold, but don’t let that stop you! Dress warmly in layers and meet us at the cemetery at noon. Or join Erin and Brian at Oakwood Arts (3511 P Street in Church Hill) at 11 a.m. for coffee, tea, and a brief introduction to the history of East End and the community it served. Volunteers will carpool to the cemetery from there (about a five-minute drive). Tools, water, and light snacks will be provided on-site. We hope to see you there!

WHEN: Monday, Jan. 15, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

WHERE: East End Cemetery (work begins at noon) or, for coffee and a ride to the cemetery, Oakwood Arts (11 a.m.)


Come One, Come All!

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We hope you’ll join us on Tuesday, June 27, at the Robinson Theater for an update on the restoration effort—past, present, and future—at East End Cemetery. We’ll share the latest facts and figures, show a selection of photographs, and encourage a community-wide conversation. Come with questions and suggestions! Light refreshments will be served.

For more information, contact us by email (friendsofeastend@gmail.com), Facebook (@EastEndCemeteryProject), or Instagram (@friendsofeastend). We look forward to seeing you on the 27th!

News from East End

Flag planting at Evergreen Cemetery in honor of Memorial Day. By the end of the long weekend, volunteers had placed nearly 200 flags at Evergreen and East End, where veterans of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam are laid to rest; May 27, 2017. Photo by Brian Palmer

The Friends of East End Cemetery Inc. is now a 501 (c)(3), a nonprofit registered with the Internal Revenue Service. This means we’re eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. (We’re asking people to wait on contributing until we give the word to contribute!)

We spent a productive Memorial Day weekend at the cemetery, weed-whacking and weed-plucking in the front section. The Knights and the Taylors came by to tend their family plots while we were there.

We took a few moments to look back on what we’ve accomplished over the past four years with our friends and partners. Since John first rolled up in the Shuck Truck, we’ve cleared roughly three and half acres of the 16-acre cemetery. About 6,000 volunteers have participated in nearly 300 work days at this hallowed ground. These figures don’t count the thousands of hours of clearing, photographing, and researching that core volunteers have invested in the restoration effort on unscheduled work days.

It’s been four excellent years—and we’re just getting started. We look forward to seeing you in the coming weeks.

Mr. Thomas Taylor plants flowers in his family plot after weeding it. He’s been tending his loved ones’ graves at East End Cemetery for many years; May 29, 2017. Photo by Brian Palmer
A grave decorated for Memorial Day in a section of Evergreen Cemetery that was recently cleared by volunteers; May 27, 2017. Photo by Brian Palmer

East End and Evergreen in the New York Times

Morning at East End Cemetery, November 19, 2016. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos

This weekend the New York Times ran Brian’s opinion piece on HB1547, a bill before the Virginia Legislature to provide annual funding for the care of historic African American cemeteries. The legislation will almost certainly meet resistance in the General Assembly, which opens January 17. Lawmakers will need encouragement from concerned citizens to pass the bill. We’re asking our supporters in the state of Virginia to contact your legislators to urge them to vote for perpetual care for East End, Evergreen, and other important sites of memory.

Morning at Sub Rosa, January 8, 2017. Photo: BP

New Year, Fresh Snow

East End Cemetery, January 8, 2017. Photo: Erin Hollaway Palmer
East End Cemetery, January 8, 2017. Photo: Erin Hollaway Palmer 
Teacake, Brian and Erin’s seven-month-old puppy, at East End Cemetery, January 8, 2017. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
Erin and Teacake enjoy a brief snow shower at Evergreen Cemetery, January 8, 2017. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
Evergreen Cemetery, January 8, 2017. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
The Braxton family crypt at Evergreen Cemetery, a frequent target of vandals and desecrators, January 8, 2017. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
On a hot day several months ago, we watched Norman Jones, a retired mason, build this enclosure around the burial plot of Patricia Ann Hardy, his friend Artie Jefferson’s girlfriend of 26 years, who passed away in February 2016. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
East End Cemetery, January 8, 2017. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos

And the Award for Historic Preservation Goes to . . .

John Shuck at East End Cemetery in April 2015. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos

We’ve been waiting for months to announce that John Shuck, who’s been leading the East End cleanup effort since summer 2013, won this year’s Peter H. Brink Award for Individual Achievement in Historic Preservation. Word came down from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in July, but the news was embargoed until last week’s awards ceremony, which took place in Houston. John and his wife, Debbie, traveled to Texas for the event, as did one of our long-distance supporters, who flew in from Miami.

The Brink Award “honors an individual who is not a career preservationist but who has made extraordinary contributions toward saving a historic place,” says the National Trust. In the years that John has been working to restore East End Cemetery, thousands of volunteers have waded into the overgrowth to pull ivy, lop briars, haul away fallen trees, and unearth long-buried headstones. Nearly 2,500 grave markers have been revealed, photographed, and posted on Find A Grave. Between three and four acres (out of 16) have been cleared—which might not sound like much if you haven’t been to the cemetery. But picture a dense forest, with an occasional headstone poking through the blanket of ivy, privet, and brambles. That’s what all of East End looked like three and a half years ago.

Now, in no small part thanks to John’s unflagging commitment, the cemetery has begun to reemerge as a dignified final resting place for thousands of Richmonders. Some of the people interred at East End were born into slavery; some fought in the Civil War; many others were born in the decades following Emancipation. They built families, churches, businesses, social clubs, mutual aid societies—all in the face of ever-present discrimination and, as the 20th century wore on, ever-stricter segregation. There are veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam buried at East End. There are teachers, ministers, doctors, tobacco stemmers, housekeepers, railroad workers. As we uncover their graves, we uncover some of their stories, which in turn allow us to tell a richer, truer story of Richmond.

Much work remains to be done, but John shows no signs of slowing down. Just this afternoon, 183 volunteers and five goats fanned out over East End, filling the dumpster, creating a new brush mountain along the road, and revealing many grave markers as they went along. He’ll be back out on Saturday.

East End Cemetery, November 2016. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos


Dr. Richard F. Tancil’s new headstone, generously donated by Damien Smith of Found and Sons Funeral Home in Culpeper, Virginia. Garland Jacobs of Oakwood Monument in Richmond inscribed it to match the original, then set it in the Tancil plot for us. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
We truly could not have asked for a better day—crisp, sunny, with that perfect fall light. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
Dr. Tancil’s great-granddaughter-in-law, Susan Mitchell, speaks to the group assembled to honor him. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
Susan had driven down from the Philadelphia area, where she was staying with her sister, to attend the headstone dedication. She and her husband, Gregory Tancil Mitchell, live near Bend, Oregon, where they retired a couple of years ago. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
Ava Reaves covered the event for the Richmond Free Press. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
Brian and Erin’s new puppy, Teacake, lavished a little affection on one of the volunteers in return for snuggles. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
Meanwhile, the goats from Bright Hope Farm & Apiary continued to gnaw their way through the underbrush on the border between East End and Evergreen Cemeteries. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos
Dr. and Mrs. Tancil’s younger daughter, Mary L., died of tuberculosis at age 18. Her father’s stone once again rests beside hers. Photo: Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos

Just a little before noon yesterday, volunteers at East End Cemetery laid down their rakes and loppers, walked to the older section of the burial ground, and gathered at the Tancil family plot. They were joined by others who had come to East End specifically for the day’s event, the dedication of a new headstone for Dr. Richard Fillmore Tancil.

Erin welcomed the group, which included students from VCU’s sociology department and ASPiRE, University of Richmond biology professors, members of Chesterfield’s Church of the Latter Day Saints, representatives from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and Enrichmond, and the Friends of East End. I told the story of the Tancil stone’s disappearance last July and tried to give people a sense of why the apparent theft struck the Friends so hard. In so many ways, Dr. Tancil exemplified the community of struggling, striving, and achieving people laid to rest at East End. Born into slavery, Dr. Tancil was educated in public schools after the Civil War. Supported by his family, he graduated from Howard University with an undergraduate degree and then an MD. He practiced medicine in Richmond, became a hospital administrator in Virginia’s segregated public health system, founded a bank, and became a civic leader. Along with other prominent black Richmonders—John Mitchell Jr., Maggie L. Walker, W. L. Taylor—Dr. Tancil publicly supported the 1904 boycott of Virginia Passenger and Power Company streetcars after Jim Crow was extended to these conveyances in Richmond, Manchester, and Petersburg. So when visitors to East End would ask us, Why does this overgrown, rundown, nearly forgotten cemetery matter? we’d take them to the Tancil plot to see the doctor’s modest stone and to tell his story.

Either paradoxically or providentially, just days after the stone disappeared last year, we met (electronically) Susan Mitchell, the wife of a great-grandson of Dr. Richard and Mary (Lane) Tancil. Susan had been searching for the Tancils’ final resting place and found information that John Shuck had entered into the FindAGrave database. On Saturday, Susan, visiting from Oregon, shared stories of the doctor’s greater legacy: love and generosity for his family and his community.

Relatives of people buried at neighboring Evergreen Cemetery as well as East End joined us toward the end of the event. We looked around at each other—white, black, Latino, Asian; the very young, college kids, and less-young folks like us. This is the community coming together to reclaim East End from neglect and vandalism—and to recover the history of the community buried there. This is Richmond.

As the Friends gathered for photos with Susan—Ava Reaves, shooting for the Richmond Free Press, got down in the dirt to take the group portrait—some folks packed up their tools and left for the day. But others lingered for minutes, then hours talking, meeting, exchanging stories and information, building a new community around a vital, common task. —Brian Palmer

After the Tancil event, Brian headed back into East End’s old section to capture the late-afternoon light. Photo: Erin Hollaway Palmer