A chance to address a century of neglect
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