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Memory & Community: A Conversation with East End Cemetery Descendants


Part of the University of Richmond’s School of Arts & Sciences Contested Spaces: This Ground.

This virtual event brought together students, faculty, and community members to explore the history of East End Cemetery, honor the people laid to rest there, and contribute to a shared vision of its future. We heard from three East End descendants—Maude Saunders, Thomas Taylor, and Alice Wooldridge—in a conversation moderated by Alicia Aroche, also an East End descendant and an international faculty affiliate with the Center on Digital Storytelling and Oral History at Concordia University in Montréal.

Background:  

Founded in 1897, East End Cemetery is a historic African American burial ground in Henrico County and the city of Richmond. It is the final resting place of upwards of 15,000 people, some of whom were born enslaved; many more were born in the decades following the Civil War, as African Americans built lives for themselves in freedom shadowed by segregation and white supremacy. 

As with other Black burial grounds of the period, plots at East End were maintained primarily by families. However, the weight of Jim Crow’s racially discriminatory policies, the lack of public investment, and the displacement of many African American communities took a heavy toll on the cemetery. By the 1970s, it was almost completely overgrown, plagued by vandalism and illegal dumping. 

In 2013, volunteers launched an effort to restore East End and by early 2020 had cleared most of the 16-acre cemetery. UR and VCU students and faculty worked alongside the Friends of East End for many of those years, recovering and documenting thousands of grave markers that span generations. 

Now, though, East End Cemetery has a new owner whose priorities are at odds with those of the longtime stewards. Can these competing visions be reconciled for the good of the cemetery? Can we create a space where all voices can be heard? 

Thank you to the following organizations for supporting this initiative through programming and coursework:

East End Cemetery Collaboratory:

 Friends of East End:

  • Brian Palmer
  • Erin Hollaway Palmer
  • Melissa Pocock

University of Richmond:

Virginia Commonwealth University:

For more information about East End Cemetery:

Sponsored by the School of Arts & Sciences, UR Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, VCU Division of Community Engagement, Friends of East End, and Oakwood Arts.