This Fall 2023 semester, the Richmond Cemetery Collaboratory (recently renamed from the East End Cemetery Collaboratory) has engaged with St. James Cemetery in Varina just east of Richmond. The governing organization of the cemetery is the Star of Benevolence Society, which is connected to a historic lodge and schoolhouse on the property at St. James Road. The cemetery was founded in the late 1800s by African American residents, and it showcases a wide range of unique gravemarkers atop the grave sites of community leaders. In 2022, Mrs. Mable Fields of the Society reached out to the Collaboratory, and meetings and initial mapping efforts took place early the following year.
In October 2023, the Society hosted Collaboratory students and faculty for a Saturday workday at the cemetery to help clear overgrown sections. After that, Elizabeth Baughan’s archaeology class at the University of Richmond returned to the cemetery with our mapping staff to record the locations of the five-acre cemetery’s markers.
The fruits of all those efforts will be revealed on Thursday, November 30, at a community conversation to be held from 6:00-7:30pm at the Varina Branch of the Henrico County Public Library, located at 1875 New Market Road in Henrico. The public is invited.
At the event, family members and descendants will be offering their own stories and experiences with the site. Other representatives from the Collaboratory, including VCU faculty, will be sharing student work including ‘zines and 3D scans, and there will be a related printing demonstration. Join us for an evening of history and inspiration.