HENRICO Co., Va. (WWBT) - More help is on the way for a historic Black cemetery in Henrico in the form of a monetary donation.
The Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant to the Woodland Restoration Foundation to help restore the cemetery.
Woodland Cemetery was established in 1916 for the internment of Black residents during a time of strict segregation. It is the final resting place for prominent individuals such as tennis champion and civil rights activist Arthur Ashe Jr., Rev. John Jasper, founder of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond.
Over the last four months, things have dramatically changed; headstones are now visible, and the trash is minimal. For years the historic cemetery was plagued with illegal dumping, however, Dominion’s donation will soon help the non-profit in accomplishing more projects and help its volunteers.
Behind the click of a camera shutter is John Shuck’s mission to give back to families across RVA.
“I’ll mark it,” he said as he logged the GPS coordinates to a grave.
For 12 years Shuck has documented graves across RVA and uploaded them to the website “Find A Grave.”
But beyond that, he’s also one of dozens of volunteers who have helped restore historic cemeteries across RVA.
“Carefully dig it out so we don’t scratch it,” he said as he cleared off a grave marker.
That includes Henrico’s Woodland Cemetery, which has years of overgrowth in need of some TLC.
“It was pretty sad,” Shuck said.
However, recently thanks to local involvement, Woodland is on the upturn. Henrico County contributed $25,000 in August to help the Woodland Restoration Foundation purchase the cemetery, and now it received another surprise.
“Dominion Energy is pleased and happy to support our community and also the history here,” said Anita Powell, Dominion Energy’s External Affairs Representative.
A $50,000 from Dominion to help with restoration efforts.
“Totally elated,” said Marvin Harris, the Executive Director of the Woodland Restoration Foundation.
Many, including state lawmakers, have called Harris the “wind beneath the sails” in getting the restoration efforts underway. However, Harris credits the dozens of volunteers who have come out every weekend to help clean up the cemetery.
“It just shows there are people paying attention to these cemeteries now and that they care,” Shuck said.
“I started two years ago; I came to visit Arthur Ashe’s grave and I thought that that area looked great, and then I turned around and saw the rest of the cemetery,” said Kathleen, another volunteer. “I knew that I had to do something, even if it was something small.”
In just a short amount of time, the cemetery chapel underwent a major transformation.
“It hadn’t been painted in, I would guess, 20-30 years,” Harris said. “Vines were growing on it. This is just the first stage, we’ve gotta do the roof.”
A company just finished painting the chapel Friday afternoon. Harris added the new color of the door also has historic significance.
“I talked to Jeanne Ashe, Arthur Ashe’s widow, and asked what his favorite color was, and she said yellow,” he said. “That’s the rational behind it.”
Thanks to Dominion’s generosity, there are even more plans for the building.
“We want to turn it into a mini-museum,” Harris explained. “With these funds it’s definitely going to help.”
As future cleanup efforts continue, the group is focused on paying the respect it deserves to this historic 29 acres.
“What this place looks like now, I am absolutely certain that the spirits that exist here are pleased with you,” said Delegate Delores McQuinn.
The non-profit is also calling on help from families who have loved ones buried at the cemetery and other major companies, saying this endeavor is a large one and the need for help is great.
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