Proposed legislation making its way through the General Assembly could revitalize neglected, historical African American cemeteries.
HB1547, or the Historical African American cemeteries and graves bill proposed by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-70th, was seen by the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee Wednesday.
The committee voted 16- 0 to send the bill to the appropriations committee.
The bill would distribute funds to select nonprofit organizations that would revitalize certain cemeteries. One of those cemeteries is Evergreen cemetery in Richmond's East End.
Evergreen cemetery dates back to 1891 and used to be a prominent, well cared for cemetery for the African American community. Civil rights trail blazers such as John Mitchell Jr. and Maggie Walker are laid to rest on the 65-acre land along with other prominent figures.
Over the years, and through a multitude of owners, the cemetery was neglected. The graves are now covered in weeds, overgrown ivy and heavy brush; many people can’t find their family members.
Local volunteers work every Thursday and most weekends at cleaning up the cemetery as best they can. They’ve had success in some areas, but still have a long way to go.
These volunteers don’t get paid, sacrifice their own time and use their own money and equipment.
"When we started you really couldn't recognize any grave sites," said Ron Hicks, a local volunteer, has been working to clear the brush for months. "We've managed to clear this whole area, and right here has been cleaned down to the ground."
Hicks and his fellow volunteers use chain saws to cut down trees. They work every Thursday and many weekends.
"It’s really slow tedious work," Hicks said. "Even as we cut trees we have to be careful with how we cut them because we don’t want anything to crash down on the grave markers."
If HB1547 bill is passed, it could give financial assistance to this group of volunteers who clean Evergreen cemetery.
The financial assistance would include $5 per grave for each year.
The bill also authorizes the distribution of a grant for maintenance and repair.
For information on the cleanup day at Evergreen Cemetery contact volunteer coordinator Marvin L. Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 240-1418.
For information on HB1547 bill, click here.
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