Oral History Project - Friends of East End Cemetery

Reclaim Richmond's African-American past through the collective stories of those buried at East End.

Established in 1897, East End Cemetery served as one of several segregated African-American cemeteries in Richmond, Virginia - the former capital of the Confederacy. We estimate 15,000+ people are interred within the 16-acre cemetery. Our nonprofit holds volunteer clean-up days each weekend to help restore the historic burial ground from nature and neglect. Buried beneath the overgrowth are Richmonders who boycotted the segregation of Richmond's streetcars in 1904, progressive educators in the time of Jim Crow, and United States Colored Troop veterans. There are individuals from all occupations who were integral to the city's social fabric, from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights era, whose stories are rarely documented. For the past six years, we have connected with friends and relatives of those interred at East End who have informally shared their loved ones' stories. We now seek to professionally record oral history stories for the purpose of public education, access, and research.

A grant from the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection helped us build an online hub, eastendcemeteryrva.com, to store images, data, and features about East End and nearby African-American cemeteries. With the State Farm grant, we will work with an independent website builder in creating the capacity to host oral histories and for users to easily submit content and comments, as well as incorporate a digital cemetery-mapping tool in conjunction with our partners at the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University. We will hire a project manager/research assistant, sound recordist, videographer, and editor. Our interview process will be designed and executed according to the ethics and standards of the Oral History Association and supervised by our board president, and 2019 Peabody Award-winning journalist, Brian Palmer.

Since 2013, the Friends of East End and our volunteers have reclaimed more than 6.5 acres of the formerly neglected cemetery, which had been engulfed by dense overgrowth over a period of decades. We have organized more than 400 workdays and coordinated over 9,200 volunteer visits. We have uncovered roughly 3,200 identifiable graves, helping to reconnect dozens of family members with their loved ones' resting places. The audible and visual oral histories will be utilized in our cemetery tours to church and school groups, in panels and symposia, in presentations at community events and universities, and serve as education resources for students and researchers. Through our involvement with academic institutions, grassroots organizations (e.g, Oakwood Arts' East End Quilt Collective), and others, we seek to educate and engage with our community about East End's place in the political, social, and economical sphere in Virginia from the turn of the 20th century to the present-day.