|a bunch of books on cemeteries|
Since June, I have been taking a course, Marketing the Past, in the Public History graduate program. In the course, our final projects included students writing business proposals for events, pursuing the steps in having a historical highway marker approved, and developing a connection between our historic cemeteries. Well, that last project was mine.
I developed a plan for a “remembrance trail” because we have some amazing cemeteries that visitors, and even our residents, are not visiting because they do not know about them. And, since we have wine trails, beer trails, and other historic trails, we should have a cemetery trail.
It’s been a fun and exhausting five weeks with a great deal of reading, writing, and researching.
All of my Public History courses have encouraged me to go out to see historic sites. Over the last week that’s been hard to do because of the heat and humidity. Yet, last week, the National Park Service hosted a tour of Evergreen Cemetery, one of the oldest privately-owned Black cemeteries in the East End of Richmond, VA. As soon as I read about the tour, I scheduled a MeetUp event for the Richmond City Cemetarians.
Around here, Evergreen is known both for the influential Richmonders who are buried there including Maggie Walker, and for the poor conditions of the cemetery. As far as I can tell, somewhere in the mid-twentieth century, people stopped tending to the cemetery as a whole. The cemetery became overgrown and it became difficult for families to tend to and visit their loved ones buried there. Hopefully the recent efforts to restore Evergreen to its original grandeur will take and we will one day see the place in the way that the designers intended it to look.
I have toured the place with the local volunteer coordinator after helping to clean up a cemetery next to this one but that was mostly pointing out the dilapidated conditions. I wanted to learn more about its history while being in the cemetery. Clearly from the picture, I love a good book about cemeteries; however, there is just something about standing in the location while learning about it that touches me.
Although the NPS tour was scheduled for 7pm, it was going to be in the mid-90s… in a place where one would have to wear jeans and boots. I did and it was hot… but it did not feel as awful as I thought it would. The historic area of the cemetery provided a good amount of shade; and, well, I was really engaged with what our guides had to say. Still, because of the conditions, both the overgrowth and the heat, the tour was just an hour and only covered three locations including the plots of Price, Jones, and Walker.
Just a brief overview of the tour since I am hoping this becomes a tour that is often more frequently.
Mr. Alfred Douglas Price Sr. was a renowned undertaker in the Black community. He started in the business in 1886, which was just before Evergreen opened in 1891. Because of the conditions of Evergreen, Mr. Price’s family had him moved to Riverview Cemetery in 1982.
|Dr. Sarah Jones|
The second stop was that of the Jones family plot. Drs. Sarah Jones and Miles Jones grew up during Reconstruction. The guides explained that these two were a power couple but with Sarah taking the lead. They married in 1888 and she attended Howard University where she would become the first black female in the state to practice medicine. She then put her husband through medical school.
|NPS guides in the Walker plot|
The third and last stop on the tour was that of Maggie Walker and the Walker family and friends. Mrs. Walker was the first female bank president of any race to charter a bank in the United States.
While Dr. Sarah Jones lies with a humble marker, Mrs. Walker has one of the grandest in the cemetery.
Although volunteers have been slowly restoring the cemetery, so few of the 50 acres are easily accessible to visitors. At the end of the tour, there was time to meander through the cemetery and reflect on the place.
I hope the NPS continues to give tours here. It is such a beautiful place even on a hot summer evening and even in its present condition.