By Maryum Elnasseh, Capital News Service
It doesn’t take more than a brief visit to East End Cemetery to see that racial inequality impacts not only the living; it extends to the dead as well.
Many of the graves in this Henrico County cemetery, the final resting place for hundreds of African-Americans who lived during the 19th century, are overgrown with weeds, their spots unmarked, sunken and fading away.
East End is one of many historic African-American cemeteries neglected for decades around the nation. But this week, the General Assembly made 19 more of these cemeteries eligible for state maintenance funds.
One of the graveyards — the Tucker Family Cemetery in Hampton — may hold the remains of William Tucker, believed to be the first child born to Africans brought to America in the 1600s.
“In order to preserve these gravesites, especially on the 400th anniversary of the first Africans being brought to our shores and sold into slavery, the city of Hampton would like to add these cemeteries,” Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, said in introducing SB 1128.
The bill and its House companion, HB 2681, introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, will add seven Hampton cemeteries to the list of burial grounds eligible to receive funds from the Department of Historic Resources.
Other bills that have passed both the House and the Senate would provide funds to six African-American cemeteries in Alexandria, three in Martinsville, one in Suffolk and two in Pulaski County.
The bills expand on previously enacted legislation to allocate funds to refurbish and maintain graves of African-Americans who lived during the 1800s.
McQuinn started the efforts in 2017 by securing funding for East End Cemetery and nearby Evergreen Cemetery. Last year, the General Assembly added African-American cemeteries in Charlottesville, Loudoun County and Portsmouth.
This story was produced by the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.