Volunteers honor MLK by documenting Richmond's African American gravesites

Updated: Jan. 15, 2018 at 11:00 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Day - a federal holiday to honor the life of the late civil rights leader who was assassinated nearly 50 years ago.

Dozens of events were held around Richmond, from public dedications to volunteer group efforts. Hundreds of people took the time to not only remember Dr. King, but honor his message.

Brian Palmer is a professor at VCU. He has documented African American gravesites for years.

"Some of these people, there are no records of their existence, but if you want to learn about Richmond's African American history at its height, this is a place to come," said Palmer.

He says he and his wife Erin got caught up in the stories each epitaph told.

"It's one thing to take pictures, but it's another to reclaim history with your hands," said Palmer.

So now, most Saturdays and some days in between, Palmer, his wife, and dozens of other people come to the East End Cemetery to clear foliage and honor lives that weren't documented the way others were, one headstone at a time.

From individuals to full-on organizations, Palmer says it only makes sense that MLK day is one of the most attended clean up days each year.

"If you look around today, we've got such a wonderful array of people, because they recognize that history matters," said Palmer.

The event started with an informal info session about why this matters, and ended with a new generation of excavators.

"When you get down on your hands an knees and you read the sponsor - 2nd Baptist church - you realize this is a commitment someone made to remember that person, and that matters," said Palmer.

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