Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

City Council eyes acquisition of two historic Black cemeteries

A person wearing a white jacket sits at a desk. A sign reads "Cynthia Newbille"
Crixell Matthews
VPM News
Richmond City Councilmember Cynthia Newbille attends a 2019 meeting. Newbille is sponsoring a measure in efforts to have the city purchase two historic Black cemeteries.

A proposal notes the transfer would come "preferably by gift."

City Council put off considering an effort to have the city acquire two historic Black cemeteries during a subcommittee meeting Wednesday. The cemeteries were caught up in the apparent collapse of a critical Richmond nonprofit last summer and questions about their condition stretch back further.

The resolution, sponsored by Councilors Cynthia Newbille (East End) and Ann-Frances Lambert (Northside), would have the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities consult with the city attorney to plan for acquiring the cemeteries.

East End Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery date back to the turn of the 20th century and were acquired by the Enrichmond Foundation in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

If the Council moves to acquire the cemeteries, it would represent the biggest public action the city has made regarding the fallout from the Enrichmond foundation’s apparent collapse last July.

Enrichmond was a fiscal agent for dozens of “friends” groups in Richmond, providing financial services for them and allowing them to fundraise without 501(C)(3) status. But in the summer of 2022, the foundation’s board resigned after financial irregularities came to light. Friend groups were left without information on how much of their funds were available, which some estimated to be tens of thousands of dollars.

At a scheduled meeting of City Council’s Government Operations Standing Committee, Chairperson Katherine Jordan (North Central) told reporters that the resolution was being continued, so behind-the-scenes work can continue.

Beyond estimating the maintenance cost of the cemeteries, Evergreen Cemetery straddles Richmond and Henrico County, adding additional complexity to the transaction. Richmond assessed its value at $9,000 this year and Henrico at $12,600, although its purchase price in 2019 was $35,000.

More than a dozen representatives of friends groups met in October to discuss next steps and explore if they had evidence that Enrichmond might have committed a crime.

“We've had sporadic contact with the city. But certainly Enrichmond, and its board and its counsel, have not communicated substantially anything to us in the now, eight months since the collapse,” said Jeffry Burden, a board member of the Friends of Shockoe Hills Cemetery, another historic cemetery in the city.

Actions by City Council involving the transfer of land require seven votes, rather than a majority.

“The resolution is very broad and kind of vague and hopeful that this could happen at no cost to the city,” Burden said. “But it is not surprising to see there's an effort to bring it under the city's purview.”

The resolution was continued to the April 26 Governmental Operations Standing Committee meeting.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.