RVA Burial Grounds, Richmond Virginia’s, African Burial Ground
Burial Ground I is located at or near the intersection of 15th and Broad Streets in downtown Richmond just north of East Broad Street between Interstate 95 and the CSX railroad tracks.
Through the combined efforts of community persons, efforts were focused between 2010 and 2011 which succeeded in rescuing on Burial Ground I from the desecration and humiliation of the site operating as a parking lot which was owned and operated by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).
Former Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones flatly and defiantly refused a request to lobby VCU president Michael Rao to cease and desist using the Burial Ground as a parking lot. In 2011, former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell signed a bill authorizing the expenditure of $3.3 million to purchase the property from VCU. The property was subsequently deeded to the City of Richmond.
Three local Black contractors donated $123,000 of their services to remove the asphalt and gravel from the Burial Ground. The deed conveying the property to Richmond required the city to make improvements on the property within five (5) years, which is not been done to date and. the property remains today as it did in 2011.
Richmond has defaulted on its agreement to program and improve this plot of land. Today, an abandoned building that has historically been on the property has deteriorated which creates a huge eyesore on what is essentially a cow pasture rather than a Burial Ground. (See the photographs below).
Richmond Virginia’s, African Burial Ground II
Richmond African Burial Ground II, was originally owned and operated by the City of Richmond. Over the years, it has been referred to by different names including: “Potters Field”; “Coloured Peoples Burying Ground”; and “African Burying Ground”. It is located at the intersection of 5th and Hospital Streets in Richmond’s Northside.
This burial ground originally consisted of two (2) acres, one (1) acre for Free People of Color and one (1) acre for Enslaved people.
Today, there is no visible sign that at least 25,000 people of African descent were interred in this burial ground Black people have suffered and continue to suffer neglect, indifference and outright hostility. As evidence of Richmond’s negative animus is that the city sold and gifted to the Hebrew Cemetery several acres of the burial ground where Black people were buried or were going to be buried. The transfer either by gift or sale of large portions of Burial Ground II to the Hebrew Cemetery was done over the vigorous objections of Black people. Today, the Hebrew Cemetery owns or exerts ownership control of the African Burial Ground II on the north and south sides of Hospital Street.
During much of its history, the Burial Ground was overseen by a standing Richmond City Council committee, the Shockoe Hill Burying Ground Committee. The superintendent of the burial ground supervised both white and Black burials and made regular reports to the City Council. This was an elected position.
There are a number of encroachments on this Burial Ground including railroad tracks built on the Burial Ground at its eastern boundary line where Black people were buried. Currently running on these tracts are freight and passenger trains.
Also encroaching on the burial ground are footings and the pillars of the Shockoe Valley Bridge which on which east and westbound traffic lanes of Interstate 64 currently rest. The fact that this is a Burial Ground was totally ignored when the construction of this bridge took place. There is currently a planned widening of Interstate 64 which will require additional footings and pillars to allow for increased traffic flow which will also rest on the Burial Ground.
The Burial Ground faces further possible encroachment by a proposed High-Speed Rail from Washington DC to Richmond. Tracks for this project slated for construction on the Burial Ground. This will also have a negative impact on the Burial Ground.
The photographs below show the encroachments on part of the Burial Ground including an abandon service station. Note the absence of any markers, gravestones or signage indicating that this is a burial ground which demonstrates the disrespect and importance of those buried there.
Figure 13 The African Burial Ground II on the east side of 5th St with Tally auto repair shop now closed and I-64 in the background. This photo and the ones below show no indication that this is a burial ground, hence the term the “Invisible Burial Ground”.
Figure 15 Looking west on hospital Street with the (Interstate 64 Bridge) and the African Burial Ground on the right side of the street.
Figure 14 Hospital Street traveling east as it traverses under I-64 which the African Burial Ground continues
Figure 13A The route of the DC to Richmond high speed rail. Note the yellow line passing over the African Burial Ground II immediately west of Interstate 64 where the Tally building is located. (See Figure 13, above)
Figure 16 (Note Railroad Tracks Over Burial Ground)
Shockoe Hill Cemetery
This cemetery was established in 1820 and was the first burial ground owned by the City of Richmond. It was and continues to be a cemetery for whites only. The City still owns and maintains the cemetery. Some of the famous people interred here include: Chief Justice John Marshall, and Virginia Governor William H. Cabell. There are many war veterans buried in the cemetery. During the Civil War several hundred Union Army prisoners of war were buried beyond the eastern cemetery wall and were interred with deceased Blacks as a sign of disrespect. These bodies were later were moved to Richmond National Cemetery. There are also several hundred Confederate soldiers buried there.
The photographs below show signage and headstones that this is a burial ground and who is buried. Also note that the grounds are regularly maintained which demonstrates the importance of the people buried.
Figure 2 Note the pleasing appearance and contemplative ambiance.
The Hebrew Cemetery opened on Richmond’s north side after the city designated two acres for the burial of free people of color and enslaved persons. The city council approved the conveyance of one acre for Hebrew burials because of the crowded conditions at a Franklin Street burial ground. Arrangements were made to transfer Jewish remains to the new burial ground, where the site was laid out in a grid pattern with graves facing east. A small ritual house was erected on the spot for the preparation of the deceased for burial. The site was called the “Jews Cemetery,” the “Jews’ burying-ground,” and then “Hebrew Cemetery”.
In 1898, a brick chapel was built to replace the cemetery’s earlier ritual house as shown in the photograph below. The cemetery expanded several times from 1871 to 1920, including a separate addition across Hospital Street to the south. The Hebrew Cemetery now holds over 2,600 burials and burials are currently ongoing.
The photographs below also show a cemetery which is managed and maintained in pristine condition.
How We Will Advocate the RVA Burial Grounds
In a letter we intend to send to Richmond City Council and the Mayor will request the following: That the City Council appoint an ad hoc committee of at least three councilpersons to work with our committee on specific solutions.
We also think it would be fruitful for the Council to have a face-to-face meeting with a committee of 1619, Inc. members so that other questions or concerns can be discussed.
In addition to interfacing with the Richmond City Council, our advocacy will take the issue directly to the people and request that they also mobilize political and community assets to create the necessary atmosphere to promote change including better maintenance and appearance of RVA Burial Grounds.