A chance to ad­dress a cen­tury of ne­glect

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - METRO - Mwilliams@Times­Dis­patch.com

To visit East End and Ev­er­green ceme­ter­ies is to wit­ness how sep­a­rate and un­equal played out in life and af­ter death.

Start­ing about a cen­tury ago, the Vir­ginia Gen­eral Assem­bly be­gan plow­ing funds into the burial grounds of de­ceased Con­fed­er­ate and Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War sol­diers. No such money was pro­vided for his­tor­i­cal AfricanAmer­i­can ceme­ter­ies. The de­valu­ing of black lives ex­tended into the grave as the ceme­ter­ies — lack­ing com­mu­nity wealth, de­void of state aid and ul­ti­mately bereft of per­pet­ual care — were over­taken by dense veg­e­ta­tion, de­cay and des­e­cra­tion.

The leg­is­la­ture can never make this right. But it has an op­por­tu­nity to do the right thing by sup­port­ing a mea­sure by Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, to ex­tend the sort of aid to his­tor­i­cal African-Amer­i­can ceme­ter­ies that the assem­bly has tra­di­tion­ally pro­vided to those with Con­fed­er­ate and Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War sol­diers.

This is not the first time a leg­is­la­tor has at­tempted to se­cure funds for black ceme­ter­ies. In 2011, a sim­i­lar bill spon­sored by Del. Jeion A. Ward, D-Hamp­ton, went nowhere.

Brian Palmer of Richmond, a pho­tog­ra­pher, writer and ad­junct pro­fes­sor at Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity, re­lated this his­tory of dis­par­ity in a com­pelling op-ed piece Sun­day in The New York Times.

How is Palmer, a vol­un­teer at East End and Ev­er­green ceme­ter­ies, the spe­cific ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the leg­is­la­tion, feel­ing about the chances of McQuinn’s pro­posal?

“I don’t know. I re­ally don’t,” he said. “I feel like it is mod­est enough — and when I say mod­est, I mean re­ally mod­est — that leg­is­la­tors could go for it based on the tremen­dous sym­bolic value. I would be dis­ap­pointed if they didn’t see that.”

He came to this is­sue af­ter vis­it­ing Camp Peary — the site of a for­mer black en­clave in York County — and see­ing the stark con­trast be­tween the ne­glected gravesite

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