Today I attended the court hearing which ruled on the Enrichmond Foundation‘s request to acquire East End Cemetery. It was a depressing spectacle.
We got here because the directors of the East End Burial Association all died out, and its corporation was dissolved by the state, leaving its assets (the 16-acre historic cemetery) in legal limbo. Enrichmond filed a petition to acquire it.
Enrichmond, however, did not inform the Friends of East End Cemetery — the current stewards of the site who had been tending it daily for more than five years — of the proceedings. That says a lot.
Instead, Enrichmond posted their petition in Style Weekly and the state attorney general’s office reviewed feedback on the petition after word finally got out. In December 2018, the attorney general’s office issued no objection to the acquisition. So we landed in court today to decide the cemetery’s legal fate.
A few scenes from the proceedings stand out:
- The opening, all-white cast of Enrichmond and its lawyer against the only black resident attending the hearing behind the Friends of East End.
- Enrichmond’s lawyer explaining to the judge that the entity has been “interested” in East End Cemetery since 2011. The lawyer’s explanation that Enrichmond has sought to be “aboveboard” in its proceedings and to invite public comment at all stages.
- The lawyer’s explanation that Enrichmond could not access the full $400,000 grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation until it had title to East End Cemetery.
- Executive director John Sydnor’s admission that his organization is now seeking the transfer of adjoining “colored pauper” burial sections owned by the city.
- The defense lawyer, representing Mark Herring’s office and the people of Virginia, asking no questions and admitting that she had never been to see the cemetery.
- The steady testimony given by Brian Palmer, Erin Hollaway Palmer, and Brenda Jones on behalf of the Friends, asking the judge to move Enrichmond to uphold the “partner” status originally agreed upon and guarantee access to the site.
- The return by John Sydnor that the Friends of East End would be treated as any other volunteer group at the cemetery.
- The judge’s final ruling acknowledging that the site needs a legal owner and granting Enrichmond’s petition, appointing its head counsel as the special commissioner to write it all up despite the latter’s acknowledgment that he had never served as such before.
- The judge’s expression of sympathy for the Friends of East End before telling Enrichmond’s representatives that “I am forced to do what you all are asking me to do.” “This is what I have to do from a legal standpoint.”
- Palmer’s quotable reaction alongside Jones’s faith-based optimism moving forward.
So we get what projects in Richmond have seemingly always gotten: an expedient, top-down solution from whites without buy-in from all segments of the community. Only the dead are at rest.