First African Baptist group adopts half-acre to maintain at historic cemetery

Jeremy Lazarus | 10/22/2016, 3:04 p.m.
The Men’s Ministry at First African Baptist Church wants to do its part to help restore the neglected, but historic ...

The Men’s Ministry at First African Baptist Church wants to do its part to help restore the neglected, but historic Evergreen Cemetery, while also challenging other churches to get involved.

The president of the ministry, Theodore M. “Ted” Thomas, said his group has agreed to maintain a half-acre of the cemetery that sits in Henrico County on the border with the city.

Essentially abandoned, the cemetery includes the graves of Richmond greats, including Maggie L. Walker and John Mitchell Jr., and thousands of deceased residents.

Mr. Thomas said the area the ministry will take on largely has been cleared of the overgrowth that still covers most of the cemetery.

“But there is more to be done to beautify it,” he said.

“There are still weeds that need to be removed, an area of dirt that needs to be leveled and headstones that need to be reset and cleaned,” said Mr. Thomas, a GRTC van driver who owns and operates a landscaping business. “We also want to create an accurate list of the people who are buried in this section.”

Mr. Thomas said he plans to lead 30 or more volunteers from the ministry to start the maintenance project Saturday, Oct. 29.

His plan is to have volunteers from the ministry regularly return, including once a month during the growing season, to maintain the section.

It’s a new project for the church group.

“I knew nothing about Evergreen until it was brought to my attention,” he said. “People in our church community have loved ones buried there and felt the ministry could make a difference, and the members agreed this would be a good project.”

He said he was awed when he visited the burial grounds.

“There are so many prominent people who are there who did so much good for the city,” he said. “You feel like you’re walking through history when you walk through this space.”

Mr. Thomas said he volunteered the ministry to care for the half-acre parcel after meeting with Marvin Harris of the Maggie L. Walker High School Class of 1967, who has been leading the class effort to clean up the cemetery.

Mr. Thomas hopes more churches will follow their example.

“Other churches are in the same boat. Their members have relatives out there, and their graves need to be tended, too,” he said.

He said if each African-American congregation maintained a part of the 60-acre property, the cemetery could quickly be restored.

Mr. Harris welcomes the ministry’s support and also hopes that other churches will respond.

He also is eager to have family members who have relatives buried in the cemetery to contact him and others.

“We want to engage them in this effort,” he said.

He has helped organize cadres of volunteers to work on cleaning up Evergreen. He said about 10 acres have been cleared of overgrowth, but about 50 acres are left to clear.

Meanwhile, other volunteers led by retiree John Shuck have cleared about half of an adjacent and abandoned 16-acre African-American cemetery called East End.

The volunteers at East End had help this week from five goats provided by Kristi Orcutt of Bright Hope Farm and Apiary in Chesterfield. The goats ate grass and bushes in a portion of the cemeteries.

For more information or to get involved: Mr. Harris, (804) 240-1418 or mharris@mapinv.com; John Shuck, (804) 728-9475; or Brian Palmer (917) 561-1964 or FriendsofEastEnd@gmail.com.