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Rep. McEachin Wants To Create National Network of African American Cemeteries

U.S. Representative Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, explains the African American Burial Grounds Network Act to a large crowd at the Black History Museum in Richmond.
U.S. Representative Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, explains the African American Burial Grounds Network Act to a large crowd at the Black History Museum in Richmond. Roberto Roldan/WCVE News

U.S. Representative Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, is pushing for the federal government to create a network of historic African American cemeteries.

On Saturday, McEachin unveiled the African American Burial Grounds Network Act. He co-introduced the bill earlier this month alongside North Carolina Representative Alma Adams. Speaking at Richmond’s Black History Museum, McEachin recognized local volunteer groups like Friends of East End and the EnRichmond Foundation, who have spent years restoring Evergreen and East End Cemeteries.

McEachin also highlighted the disparity of funding and recognition that exists between African American burial grounds and Confederate gravesites in national cemeteries.

“If we are going to tell the story, as we decide to do by preserving Confederate graves, then we need to tell the entire story," McEachin said. "That obviously includes African American graves and graves of other folks who have not been well-represented in the public discourse."

Many historic African American cemeteries across the country have fallen into disrepair after decades of neglect by local, state and federal authorities. The proposed act would create a network of sites under the National Park Service. There is currently no list or database of historic African American cemeteries in the U.S.

The act would also provide local nonprofits and volunteer groups with help in preservation and research.

Brian Palmer, who has led those efforts with the Friends of East End, said African American Burial Grounds Network Act acknowledges the effort is two-pronged: a physical reclamation and a narrative reclamation.

“We are reconstituting a history and reconstituting a community,” he said. “We are knitting this history of these individual sites back into our collective story. That’s the power of what we are doing.”

In 2017, the Virginia legislature approved $5 per grave in preservation funding for a small number of African American cemeteries. The General Assembly greatly expanded the number of eligible sites this year. The money will be used for things like clearing brush, basic headstone restoration and researching people interred at the burial grounds.

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