Evergreen and East End Cemeteries

The Walker family plot in Evergreen Cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery was founded by the Evergreen Cemetery Company 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 East Richmond Road across Stony Run 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. The initial forty-seven acre purchase was soon expanded to fifty-nine acres under a reorganized Evergreen Cemetery Association in the early twentieth century.

Shortly after the opening of Evergreen, another African-American organization, the Greenwood Memorial Association of Virginia, purchased twelve acres of land along Evergreen Cemetery’s northern border. One year following the purchase, in 1896, the Greenwood association was forced to return the property to the seller, who then sold the western half of the acreage to the city of Richmond to be used as an additional “Colored Paupers Cemetery.” Core members of Greenwood rallied again in 1897 with new leadership and a new name–the East End Memorial Burial Association. That year, the re-formed association was able to buy back the eastern half of its original tract containing six acres, and by 1917 it had expanded “East End Cemetery” to sixteen total acres. Its grounds were bisected by a ravine and featured formal paths and sections along both sides.

An aerial image of Evergreen Cemetery to the south (left) and East End Cemetery to the north (right) from 1936. Courtesy Virginia Department of Transportation

The two adjoining cemeteries composed one of the largest African-American-controlled cemetery groupings in the South. Evergreen Cemetery and East End Cemetery would host memorials for some of Richmond’s most notable residents, including pioneering bankers, editors, doctors, ministers, funeral directors, and educators. Monuments would 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 an extensive campaign of vandalism and dumping that targeted these symbols of black dignity. Amid the destruction, management at the cemeteries faced struggles as well. An ill-fated investor acquired Evergreen Cemetery in 1947 only to abandon the site shortly thereafter. In 1970, Evergreen Cemetery was purchased by Metropolitan Memorial Services, and upon bankruptcy it was purchased by the U.K. Corporation along with Woodland Cemetery in 1973. Over the same years, the East End Memorial Burial Association lost its charter as its board dissolved. While individual families did what they could to maintain plots at the respective sites, East End and Evergreen Cemeteries became largely overgrown except for one field used for ongoing burials.

When the National Park Service acquired the Maggie L. Walker home in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood in 1979 for a National Historic Site, park rangers and members of the Maggie L. Walker Foundation took a renewed interest in the conditions surrounding Walker’s grave at Evergreen Cemetery. Ranger Jim Bell proved an early leader of the effort. Since then, waves of volunteers have sought to clear the brush and trash and restore dignity to Evergreen and East End cemeteries. 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. Alongside stalwart descendants, those volunteer efforts continued to grow and were formalized with the founding of the Evergreen Restoration Foundation and the Friends of East End Cemetery in 2017. These organizations coordinated hundreds of workdays — ultimately clearing huge swaths of the grounds — in addition to engaging in a great deal of public outreach and historical research.

The volunteer efforts led to new momentum at Evergreen and East End. In 2016, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, a state agency, awarded a $400,000 grant for a conservation easement at the two sites, enabling the nonprofit Enrichmond Foundation to purchase Evergreen Cemetery from its private owners the following year. A loan from Preservation Virginia also aided Enrichmond’s purchase. And the state’s General Assembly passed a bill in 2017 providing annual funds for the upkeep of the graves of black Virginians in historic cemeteries with Evergreen and East End Cemeteries as named recipients. Backed by these funding streams, Enrichmond acquired the legally “abandoned” East End Cemetery in 2019.

VCU students at Evergreen Cemetery with John Shuck
The Friends of East End Cemetery set up for a volunteer day in 2018

Enrichmond worked to have Evergreen Cemetery named by UNESCO as a site of memory associated with its Slave Route Project, and soon thereafter, in early 2020, Enrichmond released an $18 million master plan for that cemetery emphasizing ecology, green space, and visitation.

At the same time, Enrichmond’s management alienated the grassroots volunteer leaders at both Evergreen and East End Cemeteries. So the Evergreen Restoration Foundation shifted its focus to Woodland Cemetery. The Friends of East End Cemetery continued their reclamation work until May 2020, when Enrichmond instituted restrictive new volunteer policies that neither the Friends nor their longtime community partners could accept. Then followed a spiral of bad news: human remains were exposed at the edge of East End Cemetery; sporadic groundskeeping by Enrichmond’s contractors damaged fragile grave markers, while entire sections of growth remained untouched; key staff left the Enrichmond organization; and, finally, Enrichmond’s board of directors voted in June 2022 to dissolve the organization, apparently without any transition plan in place for the cemeteries’ ownership or stewardship. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds that Enrichmond held in a fiduciary relationship for dozens of nonprofit organizations across the city disappeared or were misappropriated. So the cemeteries entered another difficult chapter of transition, at tremendous cost.

By 2023, Richmond’s city council began discussing taking on ownership of the now-legally abandoned East End Cemetery, Evergreen Cemetery, and a smaller Black cemetery on the city’s south side, Forest View Cemetery, that the Enrichmond Foundation had acquired. In February 2024, the city council passed an ordinance “To declare a public necessity for and to authorize the Chief Administrative Officer to accept certain parcels of real property presently or formerly owned by Enrichmond Foundation and its affiliate Parity LLC, commonly known as East End Cemetery, Evergreen Cemetery, and Forest View Cemetery for the purpose of preserving and maintaining such parcels as historic African-Americancemeteries and public greenspaces.”

So the properties appear to be headed for city ownership, in consultation with volunteer and descendant groups, including the Friends of East End and the Descendants Council. Funding and formal stewardship plans remain to be determined.

Video for Rosa D. Bowser (teacher and activist), 1855-1931, in East End Cemetery, by Nia Liverpool and Lory Gyekye, completed just prior to the start of volunteer efforts there: 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 Sarah G. Jones (doctor, educator), 1865-1905, by Faby Argandona-Robles and Michael Helme:

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 a review of the Enrichmond Foundation’s collapse and legacy, see:

Brian Palmer, “Enwhatnow?Medium.com, December 23, 2022

For more information on Evergreen and East End Cemeteries, see:

digital map of East End Cemetery at the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab

East End Cemetery archive, by the Richmond Cemetery Collaboratory

Descendant Voices at East End and Evergreen Cemeteries,” 2021 video

Friends of East End Cemetery resource site

Friends of East End Cemetery page and East End Cemetery volunteers wordpress blog

3D Scans of grave markers at East End Cemetery

Veronica Davis, Here I Lay My Burdens Down: A History of the Black Cemeteries of Richmond, Virginia (Richmond: Dietz Press, 2003)

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

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

Randall Kenan, “Finding the Forgotten,” Garden & Gun, August/September 2016

A Hidden History: The Story of East End Cemetery” produced by Henrico County, 2017

Brian Palmer, “For the Forgotten African-American Dead,” New York Times, January 7, 2017

Paul Karns, “In Need of Repair,” Richmond Magazine, October 14, 2020

Stephanie Spera, Elizabeth Zizzamia, Matthew Franklin, and Ryan K. Smith “Recovering a Black Cemetery: Automated Mapping of Hidden Gravesites using an sUAV and GIS in East End Cemetery, Richmond, VA,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology (2022)

Michael Paul Williams, “Enrichmond Foundation is Dissolving,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 8, 2022

Lee Ann Timreck, “In Search Of Family: The Story Of Luversa Jones,” The Uncommonwealth, August 2, 2023

Ryan K. Smith, “Signs of Community: African American Plate-Style Gravestones in Central Virginia,” Markers 39 (2024): 4-43.

Adam Rosenblatt, Cemetery Citizens: Reclaiming the Past and Working for Justice in American Burial Grounds (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2024)

old Evergreen Cemetery volunteers wordpress blog