Not really, but their burial plots at Evergreen Cemetery are at least once again free from the shackles of garbage, ivy, broken trees and ravages of Mother Nature reclaiming a forgotten landscape.
It took at least four hours of work, but a group of volunteers and I worked to reclaim the lost cemetery. It is a daunting task to completely remove more than half a century of neglect, but rewarding. This kind of work needs to be delicate so as not to disturb the graves — you can’t just clear-cut the entire landscape.
Formed in 1891 in Richmond’s East End, the express purpose of the Evergreen Cemetery Association was to establish a black cemetery that would rival Hollywood Cemetery. It became the final resting place of many of Richmond’s leading African-American citizens, including Maggie Lena Walker, John Mitchell, Jr., and Rev. Andrew Bowler.
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.
The regular volunteers got there start in Summer 2008 when they took the challenge to search for the grave of Pearl Williams. What is has become is a quest to find another several thousand lost sites, one by one.
One of the main organizers, John Shuck, called the effort an archeological dig, landscape clearing and genealogical search all in one. I agree. As we worked, I got the feeling that I was resurrecting history — reclaiming something beautiful and valuable that had been lost.
I met a wonderfully delightful and invested 12-year-old boy, Noah (green jacket, above), who comes out with his father, Mike, every weekend. Noah was quite experienced with encouraging and guiding volunteers on what needed to be done and helping set goals within a three-hour work time frame.
We picked a plot that had a suspected path next to it and by the end of the day the group had cleared two and a half plots and uncovered the path. Envisioning a goal and attacking it. Plus, the conversation was uplifting and positive — a great environment for giving your time for a good cause.
Clearing the cemetery will take years, and the small core of volunteers needs your help. Rally your friends and family and give three hours of your time one Saturday morning. Get a troop together. As you can see at right, we got a lot accomplished in one day. Compare it with the photo at top, which was after about an hours work.