I was given a tour of a forgotten land. It would have been more encouraging if it had been in a Central American jungle and we were looking for the ruins of a Mayan temple. No, it was Richmond, and we were seeking the ruins of what was supposed to be a symbol of blacks finding a measure of equality.
My tour guide was John Shuck and he is leading a group of volunteers trying to recover the jungle that has become Evergreen Cemetery, located in the far East End of Richmond. From the book Built by Blacks, by Selden Richardson:
[It] was created in 1891. It was laid out by the Evergreen Cemetery Association on a high ridge overlooking the valley formed by Stony Run and Gillies Creek; it was planned to be the African American equivalent of Richmond’s high-style Hollywood Cemetery for whites. From below, dense woods obscure the effect of the massed monuments on its hillside, and the historic gravestones extend deep into the woods, where the dead are forgotten amid overgrown paths, upturned monuments and anonymous graves.
It became the final resting place of many of Richmond’s leading African-American citizens, including Maggie Lena Walker and John Mitchell, Jr. Their plots and the surrounding plots are cleared, though roughly. There are thousands that aren’t, many forever lost.
Opened with no means for perpetual care, the cemetery has been left unchecked and is overgrown by trees, ivy (poison and English) and weeds. It has also been terribly vandalized and is littered with dumped garbage. From Built by Blacks:
The message that Evergreen first broadcast, that of parity and permanence, has become defused and blunted. The neglected cemetery distresses and confuses its few visitors, and the architecture of what was intended to be a memorial park can affect those who enter it.
Read Built by Blacks or Here I Lay My Burdens Down: A History of the Black Cemeteries of Richmond, Virginia by Veronica Davis. Gather your friends and do something about the cemetery.