Descendant Family and Community Guiding Restoration of Historic Evergreen Cemetery
Published on July 3rd, 2018 by Jess Maffey
New team driving restoration process includes families of Maggie L. Walker and John Mitchell, Jr.
Nearly 30 members of the community met on the evening of June 5, 2018 at Virginia Union University to launch the Historic Evergreen Cemetery Executive Planning and Review Team, a group of passionate community stakeholders who are playing a key role in guiding the restoration of this long-neglected resting place of Maggie L. Walker, John Mitchell, Jr., Dr. Sarah Garland Boyd Jones, and more than 10,000 other African Americans.
Since its founding in 1891 by leaders of Richmond’s African American community, Historic Evergreen Cemetery has served as a powerful monument to black achievement, community life, and enduring family bonds. For decades, volunteer groups have sought to clear and maintain portions of the cemetery, which remained in private hands until the Enrichmond Foundation’s purchase of the property in May 2017.
“We’re coming together as a community, as family, to make it right,” said Reverend H. Creed Taylor, Jr., a member of the new advisory team and descendant of several individuals resting in Evergreen, including a Civil War veteran. “The journey is just beginning, and there’s a lot of good, hard work ahead.”
Among the descendant family on the team are Viola Baskerville, Richard Waller, Jr., Dr. Johnny Mickens III, great-grandson of Maggie L. Walker, and John Mitchell, great-great nephew of newspaper editor and civil rights leader John Mitchell, Jr.
Mickens’s and Mitchell’s forebears rest in neighboring graves atop the cemetery’s terrace or “horseshoe” section, surrounded by educators, religious leaders, and other community organizers in late-19th/early 20th-century Richmond—many of whom were born enslaved.
“My father and his brothers and sisters always used Evergreen Cemetery as an anchor of our family history,” recalled John Mitchell. “It was more than a burial ground for our ancestors; it was a memorial to the friendships, the camaraderie of Richmonders. Whatever condition it was in, it housed reminders of the hopes achieved and dreams deferred.”
Long-time cemetery volunteer leaders Veronica Davis, John Shuck, and Marvin Harris are also helping to guide the effort, as well as Marilyn Campbell of the African American Historical and Genealogical Society, Mary Lauderdale of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center, Janine Bell of the Elegba Folklore Society, and Ajena Rogers of the Maggie L. Walker NPS site.
“I’m excited about this planning team coming together,” said Rogers. “Everyone in the group will add a valuable perspective to the conversation, charting how Richmond moves forward to preserve and protect this hallowed space.”
Since purchasing Evergreen in May 2017, the Enrichmond Foundation has drawn more than 1,500 volunteers to participate in regular Saturday morning community clean-up events, as well as church group and corporate workdays at the cemetery. As a result, nearly two miles of pathways have been re-opened, allowing families to visit gravesites that have been inaccessible for years.
“It’s an honor to be working with Evergreen families and community members to dignify this special place and celebrate the lives of all who rest here,” said Enrichmond Executive Director John Sydnor. “While Enrichmond has become the owner of the property, this sacred place and all that it stands for truly belongs to the community, and this new advisory team will help guide the restoration in a thoughtful, deliberate process.”
The Executive Planning and Review Team will continue to meet monthly at Virginia Union University and is planning a series of upcoming community conversations concerning Evergreen’s restoration.
John Sydnor, Executive Director