On May 17, 2017, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed HB 1547, which provides funds for the maintenance of historic African American graves in the state. There are several caveats. First, the cemetery must have been established prior to 1900 and be the property of a government or 501c3 charitable organization. Second, the allocations will be based on “the number of graves, monuments, and markers in a cemetery of African Americans who lived at any time between January 1, 1800, and January 1, 1900.” The annual allocation will total $5 (“or the average actual cost of routine maintenance”) multiplied by the number of such monuments.
Still, this is a remarkable development. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Dolores McQuinn, passed through both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously before being signed by the governor. And it names East End Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery specifically as qualified beneficiaries. The governor counts 6,975 markers in the two cemeteries, presumably meaning nearly $35,000 in annual funding for those sites. Most importantly, it is among the few expressions of recognition by the state for the historic significance of burial sites associated with those who endured slavery. As such, it joins Governor Bob McDonnell’s previous award of funds to preserve Richmond’s African Burial Ground.
In the background of all of this is the state’s longtime financial support for the gravesites of Confederate veterans.
See also WTVR’s story on the new act.