Today new signage was unveiled at the Battlefield Park Road Cemetery in eastern Henrico County. This is not the nearby Fort Harrison National Cemetery, but a private family cemetery, listed in the “Henrico County Cemeteries” study as the Harris-Lawrence-Jackson Cemetery. It is located at 7921 Battlefield Park Road in Varina for those looking to visit.
The cemetery features dozens of historic graves and grave markers dating from the early twentieth century through as late as 1972. The community has been historically linked to Varina’s St. James Baptist Church.
Five years ago the cemetery was largely overgrown and overlooked. Then, Olivia Garland, who grew up in the neighborhood and still had a number of extended family in the area, came looking for the graves of her mother’s family. Knowing that there was a burial ground beneath the overgrowth along Battlefield Park Road, she enlisted John Shuck for help clearing the site with additional volunteers and family members. Within just a couple years, the group uncovered numerous grave markers, including that for America Fields (d. 1927), Garland’s great-grandmother. The group identified more descendants, held regular cleanup days, received a grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, partnered with the local chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and coordinated with the National Park Service and Henrico County for more support. All of that brought the group to today’s uplifting dedication ceremony and the unveiling of a sign marking the “Battlefield Park Road African American Family Cemetery” and its adage, “May They Never Be Forgotten.”
The dedication ceremony featured song, prayer, a pouring of libations, a review of the site’s history and its recovery, and remarks by Rev. Tyrone Nelson of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors. As at other recently recovered cemeteries, it was an occasion to celebrate, in Garland’s words, “people who want to do good,” including the long list of cousins who served on the restoration team, and John Shuck, whom Garland described as “my hero.”
Standing there alongside the preserved earthworks of the Fort Harrison National Battlefield Park, it was meaningful to see the family, community, and different organizations come together this way to celebrate a once-overlooked site and its place in history. There are so many more cemeteries out there with this potential.