HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — After years of neglect, one Henrico nonprofit organization uncovered thousands of gravesites at a historically Black cemetery.
Woodland Cemetery was founded in 1917 by American businessman, newspaper editor and civil rights activist John Mitchell, Jr. Over the years, due to a lack of funding and support, the site fell into disrepair, leaving a number of gravesites overgrown and sunken into the ground. This impacted families looking to visit their loved ones and volunteers who were struggling to maintain the area.
This was where the Woodland Restoration Foundation stepped in to restore the site to its original state, a resting place for the Black community.
With the help of community volunteers, local businesses and government support, the foundation’s staff were able to restore dignity to the sacred site. In two years, they recovered thousands of burial sites. They also believe there are more than 30,000 people buried at the cemetery.
Out of the 30 acres of property, the Woodland Restoration Foundation said only two-thirds of the land has been restored, which leaves a third of the property containing gravesites of individuals who have not been identified.
Marvin Harris, the executive director of the Woodland Restoration Foundation, has led the effort on this project and said his foundation made significant progress restoring the previously neglected property.
“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,” Harris said. “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.”
Similar historic cemeteries like Evergreen and East End have also encountered issues with upkeep and are in the process of changing ownership.
While the Woodland Restoration Foundation is proud of the work completed so far, they say that there is still a long way to go. To assist in restoration efforts or to learn more, you can visit their website or Facebook to become a volunteer.