Saturday, September 21, 2019

Lost Richmond Historic African American Cemetery Needs Respect

The recent discovery of what are believed to be the remains of enslaved African Americans on the grounds of the University of Richmond is an important event for all Richmonders. For descendants, it can mean the memorialization of family members whose resting places were long hidden. For historians, the burials near the campus lake can help fill in the antebellum history of this part of Henrico County and the culturally important Westham area.

Finding the lost cemetery is especially important to the school, which has been suddenly presented an excellent opportunity to expand the their multicultural appeal. Once research is completed on the site, the University of Richmond plans an extensive program: a memorial to be ready by 2020, to be followed by a program of outreach to “…connect with the descendant community and support ongoing work to integrate historical context into [the] campus…” The possibility of slaves buried on the campus and interpretation of this burying ground has obviously become a major incentive for the University, judging by some of the senior administrators who were named to develop this new-found facet of the school’s history.

The historic African American Sons and Daughters of Ham cemetery adjoining the University of Richmond campus is now completely overgrown and derelict.

The University of Richmond’s attention has been dragged to the subject of historic African American cemeteries and their response was prompt. Having first explored and now researching the cemetery on the college grounds, justice demands that UR now address a neglected and vandalized African American cemetery that adjoins the campus and that University officials have been aware of since the school’s campus was established in the far west end of Richmond more than a hundred years ago.

This marker shows the corner of the University of Richmond campus where it adjoins the Sons and Daughters of Ham cemetery.

In 1873, decades before the University of Richmond purchased its campus property, a fraternal organization called the Sons and Daughters of Ham bought an acre of land on the edge of Bandy Field on the northern edge of what is now the UR campus. The lodge house built by the Sons and Daughters of Ham on the site served the Reconstruction -era African American community where Bandy Field park is today. This fraternal group was typical of a large number of clubs and societies that were popular with blacks during Reconstruction. Occasionally, these organizations later became formal insurance companies and banks, but the majority were simply social and self-help groups, often providing for burial funds when a member died. The Sons and Daughters of Ham reserved part of the acre plot for burial of an unknown number of their members. The lodge house burned in the 1940s, and like the community it served, the Sons and Daughters of Ham itself became extinct. Information as to who was buried in the cemetery became lost.

This modern survey of the Sons and Daughters of Ham lodge and cemetery property shows its position at the point the City of Richmond, Henrico County, and the University of Richmond all meet. Note also the incursions of roads and paths into the property.

One of the few remaining headstones in the Sons and Daughters of Ham cemetery was that of Moses Bradford, whose Government-issue granite marker had the distinctive shield design only used for veterans of the Spanish-American War. Bradford, age 29, listed his occupation as “quarryman” when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in May 1898. Bradford was among the “colored” troops digging trenches in the hot tropical sun near Santiago de Cuba a few weeks later, and was felled by sunstroke. So profoundly overheated that he received a disability discharge due to debilitating headaches, Bradford left the Army in January 1899. He died in 1936 and was buried at the Sons and Daughters of Ham cemetery, where he no doubt expected his grave to be kept in good order on the grounds of the organization hall.

The now-missing tombstone for Moses Bradford. The shield device is common to all markers for veterans of the Spanish-American War.

Bradford’s tombstone stood unmolested for eighty years until some group of idiots (it would have been far too heavy for one person to move) thought it would be a good idea to steal the massive granite marker. Today Moses Bradford’s tombstone, paid for by his sacrifice, is gone and is nowhere to be found.

The cemetery at Bandy Field is now completely overgrown, but its preservation is being shepherded by the Friends of Sons and Daughters of Ham, Inc. who monitor the condition of the cemetery. They know all too well the University’s interest in the property. Twenty years ago, the parcel came under close scrutiny as the location is key in linking the UR campus to Bandy Field, which the school had negotiated to purchase to expand the campus. Only by owning the Sons and Daughters of Ham property could they have linked the campus and what is now the park. Not only did they know the acre parcel existed, they knew it was a cemetery, too.

This is the corner marker of another burial plot in the Sons and Daughters of Ham cemetery, now in dense woods. The metal pipes that once formed a low fence that marked the graves are missing.

It is only fitting that the students of the University of Richmond be made cognizant of the importance of this cemetery and the history of the adjoining Bandy Field. A small investment of time and money would transform this site, and make it a valuable asset of the increasingly popular Bandy Field Park. This acre of woods, with a minimum of investment, could, like the graves down by the lake on campus, be pointed to as an effort to understand the history of the area. The Sons and Daughters of Ham cemetery could be the touchstone for any preservation program UR might develop in the future. The University taking a hand in the preservation of the Sons and Daughters cemetery would be a terrific public relations piece for the school and the cause of a lot of good press for the university.

The vandalized grave marker of another member of the Bradford family in the cemetery between Bandy Field and the University of Richmond.

The University of Richmond is hardly a stranger to cemetery preservation, and in fact is already involved with another historic African American cemetery a dozen miles away. The school, in collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University, opened the East End Cemetery Collaboratory in 2017 to work on one of a series of historic cemeteries in the far opposite corner of the city.  “Our work has included studies of demography, ecology, gravestone symbolism, medical sociology and personal histories,” recounted one participant. The sheer area of the East End Cemetery dwarfs that of the site near the campus. A tiny amount of the money spend on such wide-ranging, high-tech research in Richmond’s East End would have turned the Sons and Daughters of Ham cemetery into an unmistakable statement of the University of Richmond’s intentions toward not only its history but that of the whole area.

The overturned tombstone of Queen V. Johnston. Her marker is decorated with classic funerary imagery: the gates of heaven swinging open. Today, this marker is lost under the accumulation of leaves and vegetation.

In a recent New York Times editorial, University of Richmond President Ronald Crutcher spoke of the school’s efforts to increase awareness of its past: “We’re enlisting a public historian to coordinate with faculty and students to help us tell a fuller, more inclusive story of who we were, are, and aspire to be. Work that includes memorializing figures such as the enslaved people who are believed to be buried on our campus and the first black alumni of Richmond’s undergraduate program.”

If that’s true, then Dr. Crutcher, please budget some money toward the preservation of the historic African American cemetery that abuts the college grounds. If UR is now so very interested in their ethnic past, let them work in concert with the Friends of Sons and Daughters of Ham, Inc. and put forward some of the school’s ample operating funds to clear the plot, and provide appropriate signage to explain the presence of the cemetery on the hill overlooking their campus. And above all, if the University of Richmond is so mindful of the importance (and fragility) of its history, then let its students be made aware vandalizing cemeteries is a serious crime. If the school can devote money and time to help restore a cemetery in the far East End, the University must surely help a site that literally touches their campus. This lack of interest by the University of Richmond might be perceived as part of a cynical plan to demean the importance of the cemetery prior to acquiring it for development. To help improve the grounds of the cemetery would dispel that accusation. 

The theft of Moses Bradford’s tombstone, issued to mark the burial place of an honorably wounded veteran, is an absolute disgrace. Funds are privately being collected by a small but dedicated group to replace it. Hopefully, the original won’t be found in pieces behind the University of Richmond’s nearby Fraternity Row. No matter who stole the marker, the growing sensitivity, nationally and locally, to the plight of historic black cemeteries is a trend that will not go away. The school needs to step up, work with the Friends of Sons and Daughters of Ham, Inc., and help fund the preservation of the Sons and Daughters of Ham cemetery. To ignore this site beside their campus while promoting their sudden interest in bodies buried down by their lake or in the far East End is the height of hypocrisy, and an exercise in deliberate neglect unworthy of the University of Richmond.

- Selden Richardson. 


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Edward H. Peeples, Jr. (1935-2019), Civil Rights advocate, long time VCU professor and a great guy.

A nice article on Ed Peeples who died earlier this week. From VCU's Public Affairs office:

Edward Peeples, longtime VCU professor and tireless social justice advocate, dies

Ed Peeples
Ed Peeples conducted extensive research in issues of social justice and was a civil rights advocate who was involved in a variety of human rights reforms in Virginia. 

Edward H. Peeples Jr., Ph.D., a longtime civil rights advocate and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, died on Sept. 7. He was 84.

Peeples was emeritus associate professor of preventive medicine and community health at VCU. His academic focus was in the fields of medical behavioral science, public health, epidemiology and sociology, but he also conducted extensive research in issues of social justice and was a civil rights advocate who was involved in a variety of human rights reforms in Virginia and elsewhere in the South.

“Ed was a beloved figure in our community life, and deeply respected for his passion and activism in social justice and human rights,” said John Ulmschneider, dean of libraries and university librarian at VCU.

Peeples, who was born in 1935, was an alumnus of Richmond Professional Institute, where he received a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education in 1957 and was a member of the basketball team. He later received a master’s degree in human relations (intergroup relations) from the University of Pennsylvania in 1963 and a Ph.D. in sociology with a concentration in medical behavioral science from the University of Kentucky in 1972. He taught at the Medical College of Virginia and RPI beginning in 1963, left to focus on his Ph.D., and then returned to teach at the newly formed VCU in 1968.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

We remember Alyson Lindsey Taylor-White.

As many of you know, Alyson Lindsey Taylor-White, Richmond historian and educator, died on June 15, 2019. Alyson contributed to our site with several essays on various topics of Richmond history. Alyson was a very warm and genuine caring person. She was generous with her time. She had a passion for history in the true sense and loved to share what she had learned. I wish I had known her longer. 

You can get a sense of Alyson's personality and interests by looking at her Facebook page which is still available to view. 

Her family is having a service for her this week. They authored this obituary which I am sharing below. We will miss her very much.

- Ray Bonis


Obituary for Alyson Lindsey Taylor-White

It is with great sadness the family of Alyson Lindsey Taylor-White announce her passing on June 15th at the age of 65. A life ended too soon, but one that left a profound impact on so many.

Alyson was predeceased by her husband of more than 30 years, Roger A. Habeck who passed away in January 2018. She is survived by her two brothers James Martin Taylor, Jr. and Gregory Dennis Taylor and his wife Sue, as well as her beloved four footed furry companions, Dixie Belle and Gracie Mae. She will be deeply missed by many extended family members and friends. 

Alyson was an award-winning writer, journalist, historian and educator with deep roots in Virginia.

She was co-owner of the Virginia Review, a journal for government and political leaders in Virginia, where she was a writer, photographer and the editor for 25 years. 

She founded the company “Tours, Tales & More” that was an educational editorial, copy writing, historical research, preservation and tourism related consultancy company.

She was an adjunct instructor at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies and the Osher Institute, at the University of Richmond where she taught courses that featuring local and state history.

Her book “Shockoe Hill Cemetery, A Richmond Landmark History” was published in 2017 through the History Press.

Alyson was passionate about history, which in her own words “led her on a fabulous literary and education adventure”. She had a special talent for telling a story whether it was in her book, the classroom, leading a tour or as a volunteer at a numerous historical venues within the Richmond region. 

A celebration of Alyson’s life is to be held on Wednesday July 17th, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm, at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture – Halsey Lecture Hall, 428 N Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Richmond, Virginia 23220

As an expression of sympathy, memorial donations may be made to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. .