HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Two years after acquiring the historic Woodland Cemetery in eastern Henrico County, Marvin Harris and his foundation have made significant progress restoring the previously neglected property.
Harris is the executive director of the Woodland Restoration Foundation, which has cleared about two-thirds of the 30-acre cemetery of overgrown plants and weeds. In doing so, thousands of graves that were previously lost to nature are now accessible to visitors.
“It’s a good feeling to know that you have brought it from where it used to look to the way it looks right now,” said Harris. “If you could imagine one of the family members coming to you, and they cry and they thank you because they haven’t been able to get in and physically see their ancestors for 15 or 20 years.”
Woodland Cemetery was founded in 1917 for the internment of Black Richmonders during the Jim Crow era. Today, the cemetery has an estimated 30,000 gravesites, including that of tennis champion and civil rights activist Arthur Ashe, Jr., who was born and raised in Richmond and became first Black man to win the Wimbledon singles title and be selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team.
The cemetery was under corporate ownership until 2020, when Henrico County provided $25,000 to help Harris’s foundation purchase the property. Henrico still provides equipment for use by the foundation.
“It’s wonderful to see Woodland Cemetery becoming once again a place of respect and reverence for the members of our community who are buried there,” said Fairfield District Supervisor Frank J. Thornton. “I applaud Mr. Harris and the foundation not only for maintaining the grounds but also for beginning to develop a vision for the future of this historic place.”