Unknown African American burials behind Freeman High School

Yesterday, I was contacted by John Larkins, a longtime teacher at Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico County. Larkins has become aware of a burial ground at the rear of the school, adjoining Ridge Baptist Church. The ground appears to be the original cemetery serving an African American community with a related Baptist church, possibly named Westwood. (Someone created a Findagrave page for it.) At some point, this community opened a second graveyard near the “Toys R Us” store nearby on Quioccasin Road, with surviving headstones, seen at this Findagrave cemetery.

The challenge faced by the community and Larkins is that headstones appear to have been removed from the original burial ground and possibly relocated to the subsequent graveyard on Quioccasin. That left the original site, now untended, without markers explaining its burials. The original graveyard is now in private hands, according to county tax records. Selden Richardson made reference to this episode in his 2007 book, Built By Blacks.

The scenario is all too common. Indeed, Henrico County detailed efforts to find and mark such “forgotten” cemeteries in a 2009 video, “No Stone Unturned: Cemetery Identification in Henrico County,” and Lynn Rainville traces the phenomenon in her 2014 book, Hidden History: African-American Cemeteries in Central Virginia.

Here we have another opportunity for someone to research the history of an overlooked site and organize a movement toward raising a historic marker.