All Our Sorrows Heal: Reclaiming the Past at East End and Evergreen Cemeteries, Richmond and Henrico County, Virginia

Friday, December 15, 2017
10:00 AM - 4:00 PM (ET)
MAGILL MAGILL Sharpless Gallery
Event Type
Hochberg, Rachel A

Photographs by Brian Palmer and Erin Hollaway Palmer

We made our first trip to East End and Evergreen, historic African American cemeteries that straddle the border between Richmond and Henrico County, Virginia, in May 2014. Driving slowly down the access road past what looked like forest, even jungle, we came to a small cleared section of East End; we had no idea at the time that we were seeing only a tiny fraction of the 16-acre burial ground. In fact, we didn't even know it was East End but assumed it was part of neighboring Evergreen, which is better known and nearly four times as large. 

Both cemeteries had been effectively abandoned for years, the vast majority of the headstones engulfed in English ivy, greenbrier, and sumac. Nature is voracious in Virginia. But it was not the only force at work. East End and Evergreen were established in the 1890s, just as segregation was tightening its grip on African Americans, who had built thriving institutions in the wake of the Civil War and Emancipation despite violent white opposition. In 1902, white Virginians rewrote the state constitution, with the express purpose of disfranchising black men. Thereafter, a succession of discriminatory laws and practices continued to chip away at African American civil rights and economic power. 

By the 1960s, East End and Evergreen had begun to decline, and by the 1980s they had become illegal dumping grounds. Several years ago, cemetery cleanup volunteers extracted more than 1,500 tires from a secluded section of East End; we still find caches of household trash along the roads. But volunteers, us among them, have also recovered nearly 3,000 headstones at East End alone in the four years since restoration began. The photographs in this exhibition document that laborious effort as well as the inherent power and beauty of these sacred spaces.

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