A historical marker describes Evergreen Cemetery as the burial place for notable blacks in Virginia in the late 1800s and early 1900s. (Photo Courtesy: The Shockoe Examiner)
Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast. –Lift Every Voice
For over a hundred years the State of Virginia had quietly preserved Confederate landmarks and cemeteries with state funding. While Black Cemeteries which housed slave plots and influential African Americans from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s is eroding by time and vegetation.
“They have been left out of the equation,” said Del. Delores L. McQuinn (D-Richmond), who sponsored house bill 1547 Historical African American Cemeteries and Graves which will allow state funding to care for these grave sites. “We’ve got a whole laundry list of Confederate cemeteries and Revolutionary cemeteries that are given money every year. We’re not asking for anything out of the normal.”
Through awareness and support of Del. Delores L. McQuinn (D-Richmond) and community support, the bill has recently passed and awaiting signature from state Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is a supporter of the bill.
“This is awesome”, Del. Delores L. McQuinn shared with the Los Angeles Sentinel. “Were really elated about it. It’s the first of its kind to be addressed through funding from the state. Hopeful this is just the beginning. There are others that have been abandoned and neglected as well for various reasons. People die, some were property owned by churches that have folded under and so these cemeteries are left to their demise. There’s a new direction that many of us are taking in Virginia, to begin to identify these landmarks and just try to connect with the past of African American culture here in Virginia.”
Evergreen Cemetery became the burial ground for some of the most historic African American citizens of Richmond, Virginia. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Black bankers, publishers, doctors, lawyers were all lied to rest at Evergreen. Maggie Walker, the first woman of any race to charter a bank in the United States, Hezekiah F. Jonathan, a business owner and the vice president of the Mechanics’ Savings Bank, and John Mitchell Jr., a crusading newspaper editor who staged a protest over streetcar segregation as far back as 1904.
During this time blacks could not be buried in the upscale cemeteries that there equvolents were buried. The 60-acre Evergreen had no ongoing means of support. Only a network of dedicated volunteers keeps it and the adjacent East End Cemetery from being forgotten.
“Sometimes symbolism is important in and of itself, even if it isn’t going to solve a problem completely,” said Lynn Rainville, a professor at Sweet Briar College and an expert on African American cemeteries in Virginia. “Of all the ways to fight social injustice and all the things that we should or should not be doing today to right centuries of injustice, to me cemeteries are important — they are open-air museums of African American culture.”