Evergreen and East End Cemeteries
Evergreen Cemetery was founded by the Evergreen Cemetery Association in 1891, around the time that the venerable Barton Heights Cemeteries were nearing capacity and facing pressure to close. Evergreen is located on the east end of town, on E. Richmond Road across a small creek from the city’s Oakwood Cemetery. Evergreen’s African-American founders intended it to be one of the region’s premier burial grounds for black residents during the height of Jim Crow segregation. The cemetery features a geometrical layout, with a few curving lanes up the hilly terrain. It was designed by the firm James T. Redd and Sons, ultimately reaching over sixty acres. Shortly after the opening of Evergreen, the East End Memorial Burial Association formed from another previous attempt (which had gone under the name of the Greenwood Memorial Association of Virginia) and assembled twelve adjoining acres.
Evergreen Cemetery and East End Cemetery host memorials for some of Richmond’s most notable residents, including pioneering bankers, editors, doctors, ministers, funeral directors, and educators. Monuments include life-sized human sculptures, a mausoleum in the art deco style, the Walker family cross, and thousands of ordinary rectangular markers noting the many fraternal, benevolent, and business organizations formed by the black community for mutual support during the Jim Crow era.
In the mid-twentieth century, conditions at the two cemeteries declined as a result of vandalism, mismanagement, and neglect, and the entire area became overgrown outside of one field still used for burials. When the National Park Service opened the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood in 1979, park rangers took a renewed interest in the conditions surrounding Walker’s gravesite at Evergreen. Since then, waves of volunteers have sought to clear the brush and trash and restore dignity to the sites. Veronica Davis, a local librarian, took the lead in these efforts in the late 1990s, soon joined by John Shuck, an IT professional nearing retirement at SunTrust Bank.
The growing numbers of volunteers led to new momentum at Evergreen and East End. In 2016, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation awarded a $400,000 grant to aid efforts at recovery at the two sites. The following year, the General Assembly passed a bill providing annual funds for the upkeep of the graves of black Virginians in historic cemeteries, with Evergreen and East End Cemeteries as named recipients.
In 2017, Enrichmond Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by the city of Richmond, announced that it had purchased Evergreen Cemetery from its longtime private owners, the UK Corp (which had acquired it along with Woodland Cemetery in 1973). Enrichmond worked with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to establish a conservation easement on the site.
East End’s association has gone defunct, and the future of its ownership is in limbo, though Enrichmond is making plans for its acquisition as well, while community volunteers continue their work there.
Video for Rosa D. Bowser (teacher and activist), 1855-1931, in East End Cemetery, by Nia Liverpool and Lory Gyekye: Rosa Bowser Gravesite Tour
Podcast for J. Andrew Bowler (pastor and educator), 1862-1935, by Erin Hanes and Lakeda Thompson:
Podcast for Francis Cooney (society woman), 1873-1919, by Aubrey Allen and Latia Trotter:
Podcast for Thomas Mitchell (Richmond Planet employee), 1869-1900, by Brandon Henton and David Kim:
Podcast for Maggie L. Walker (banker, philanthropist, and activist), 1864?-1934, by Mariah Ashenden and Amber Prescott:
For more information, see:
Evergreen page at Enrichmond Foundation
Veronica Davis, Here I Lay My Burdens Down: A History of the Black Cemeteries of Richmond, Virginia (Richmond: Dietz Press, 2000)
“A Hidden History: The Story of East End Cemetery” produced by Henrico County, 2017 [Adobe Flash required]
Eric S. Huffstutler, “And They Weep… A Richmond Disgrace,” part 1 in Church Hill Association’s Community Newsletter, October 2014 and part 2 in Church Hill Association’s Community Newsletter, November/December 2014
Brian Palmer and Erin Hollaway Palmer, “Reclaiming Black History, One Grave at a Time,” The Nation, October 15, 2015
Brian Palmer, “For the Forgotten African-American Dead,” New York Times (January 7, 2017)
Selden Richardson, Built By Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond (Charleston, SC : History Press, 2008)
“Evergreen Cemetery: History in Ruins,” by Ireti Adesanya, Kevin J. Hambel, and Dan Reiner, 2012
map of East End Cemetery at the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab