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New Law Spotlight: General Assembly allocates funding to restore African American cemeteries

A new state law taking effect Saturday, July 1st will help with the cleanup and maintenance of historic African American gravesites in Virginia.

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Editor’s note: Each day this week, we’ll be highlighting new laws and regulations that will go into effect at the start of the new fiscal year this Saturday, July 1st in order to keep our community informed and aware.

By Chelsea Jackson – VCU Capital News Service

Hollywood Cemetery flaunts pristine iron gates, beautiful mausoleums and monuments, and majestic views of the James River. This gorgeous scenery is sorely lacking at two other historic cemeteries less than 15 minutes down the road.

When created in the 1800s, Evergreen and East End cemeteries were envisioned as high-end resting places for important African-American figures, just as James Monroe, Jefferson Davis and other prominent Caucasians were buried at Hollywood Cemetery.

But today, the African-American graveyards are far from high end. They are marred by cracked headstones, broken fences and overgrown vegetation stretching to the tops of the trees. At Evergreen and East End, rest in peace is more like rest in distress.

The condition of these gravesites could change when House Bill 1547 takes effect July 1. Introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn of Richmond, the new law will distribute funds to organizations to assist with the cleanup of “historical African-American cemeteries and graves.”

McQuinn has long had an interest in the cemeteries; she has relatives buried there. She said she appreciates the efforts of volunteers who have worked to spruce up the gravesites.

“I am grateful for the many volunteers and interest that people have taken into helping to maintain to the point that it’s presentable,” McQuinn said.

HB 1547 will benefit cemeteries that were established before 1900 for the interment of African-Americans and are owned by a governmental entity or nonprofit group. Under the law, the state will help cover the cost of maintaining such sites. Eligible cemeteries will receive at least $5 for each grave, monument or marker for an individual “who lived at any time between January 1, 1800, and January 1, 1900.”

East End Cemetery in Henrico County has 4,875 graves that qualify for assistance; Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond has 2,100.

John Shuck is the site coordinator for the East End Cemetery Cleanup and Restoration Project and the assistant coordinator for a similar effort at Evergreen Cemetery. Shuck had come across the cemeteries while exploring his interest in genealogy more than nine years ago.

Shuck said beautifying the cemeteries is a long-term commitment.

“The first thing you do when you go in there is clear it, but then you have to maintain what you clear. That’s what we’re hoping some of these funds will do,” Shuck said.

The two cemeteries hold the remains of African-Americans who had a significant impact on Richmond, Virginia and the nation. They include pioneering business leaders Maggie Walker and Hezekiah F. Johnathan and crusading newspaper editor John Mitchell.

Given the stature of such figures, how did the cemeteries fall into a state of neglect?

Shuck attributed the lack of attention to the migration of black families up north for jobs during the Depression, leaving no one to care for the graves.

But many people believe race also was a factor.

“I don’t think that the interest nor the commitment was made to that cemetery like Hollywood Cemetery received,” McQuinn said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe made that point when he signed HB 1547 on May 17. He said the new law will remedy a long-standing injustice. “Unlike Confederate cemeteries, black gravesites have gone centuries without state funds allocated for their maintenance and preservation,” he said.

McAuliffe said the state has made annual payments to maintain Confederate gravesites. In addition, in 1914, the General Assembly appropriated $8,000 – the equivalent of $190,000 in today’s dollars – to improve Hollywood Cemetery. And in 1997, the state provided $30,000 to restore Confederate graves at Oakwood Cemetery, less than two miles from the dilapidated African-American cemeteries.

Under the new law, Evergreen and East End cemeteries finally will receive financial help, too. McQuinn has hopes of creating a “garden of reflection” where people can come to learn and connect with their history. That will take money, but McQuinn is optimistic it will materialize.

“I don’t have any doubt that we will get there,” she said.

How to help

Evergreen and East End cemeteries need volunteers to help with cleanup and maintenance. If you want to volunteer or would like more information, contact Marvin Harris at [email protected] or John Shuck at jshuck @rocketmail.com.

Harris said he is thankful that several volunteers come out on a weekly basis to help with the maintenance. They include James Giles, Ron Hicks, Barney Lomax, George Nixon, Al Simmons, Al Smith and Ronald Wilson.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Lobby Day 2021 Road Closures and Preparations

It’s a lobby day like no other. Here are the announced road closures.

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From RPD:

The Richmond Police Department is dedicated and committed to ensuring public safety before, during, and after Lobby Day 2021.

The Department is continuing to monitor activity in and around Richmond, as well as working with other law enforcement agencies. Operations and personnel are in place to address public safety needs.

In anticipation of events, signs prohibiting firearms will be placed throughout the city to inform those who may gather that firearms are prohibited at permitted events and events that would otherwise require a permit, as well as areas adjacent to such events.

Some signs are already up as of Wednesday afternoon.

We encourage the community to stay vigilant. If you see something, say something. Report any suspicious activity immediately by calling the non-emergency line at 804-646-5100 or 911 for emergencies.

If you live or work in the area surrounding Capitol Square and downtown, you should expect disruptions to your usual routines. Traffic will be impacted starting at 6 a.m. on Sunday, January 17 until 6 p.m. Monday, January 18.

The following roads will be closed during that time period:

  • 9th Street between E. Main Street and E. Broad Street
  • 10th Street between E. Cary Street and Bank Street
  • East Main Street between 14th Street and 9th Street
  • Bank Street between 14th Street and Governor Street
  • Franklin Street between 8th and 9th Streets
  • Franklin Street between 7th and 8th Streets
  • East Grace Street between 8th and 9th Streets
  • East Grace Street between 7th and 8th Streets
  • 12th Street between Cary Street and Bank Street
  • Monument Avenue between Meadow Street and Lombardy Street
  • Allen Avenue between W. Grace Street and Park Avenue

    *Additional roads may be closed temporarily as needed

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Government

Richmond health districts enter Phase B1 of COVID vaccinations, which includes first responders, teachers, other essential workers

First responders, corrections and homeless shelter workers, and teachers and school staff are among the essential workers eligible for the vaccination under phase 1B.

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The local health districts of the Richmond Metropolitan Area, which includes Chesterfield, Chickahominy, Henrico, and Richmond, will begin expanding their COVID-19 vaccination campaigns to include some Phase 1b frontline essential workers on Monday, January 18th.

Specifically, workers in the first three categories of ​Phase 1b​, will now be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines will be administered through a combination of regional mass vaccination events, as well as partnerships with various providers. Vaccination of ​Phase 1a populations​ will continue as the region opens up to Phase 1b.

“We know that the burden of this disease and the underlying social vulnerabilities that put these essential workers at risk do not end at the boundaries of our city and counties,” said Dr. Melissa Viray, Acting Director for Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. “It makes the most sense to coordinate our vaccination efforts and make sure all of our communities have access to the best tool we have to end the pandemic.”

The first three categories of Phase 1b frontline essential workers include:

  1. Police, Fire, and Hazmat
  2. Corrections and homeless shelter workers
  3. Childcare/PreK-12 Teachers/Staff

Individuals in these categories will start to have the opportunity to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at one of three large-scale regional vaccination clinics beginning next week.

“Many school teachers and staff in our jurisdictions have courageously shown up for in-person instruction throughout this pandemic in order to serve their students’ needs and to provide the best education possible. This vaccine offers a shield of protection and a beacon of hope for this group of essential workers,” says Dr. Tom Franck, Director of Chickahominy Health District.

Next week’s COVID-19 vaccination events are taking place in addition to each local health districts’ ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts for qualified individuals. Metro area districts are exploring ways to move deeper into the 1b vaccine eligible group as additional resources become available to distribute vaccine more broadly.

“VDH is continuing to work with pharmacies, hospital systems, and medical practices to establish the infrastructure to more quickly and effectively distribute available resources and vaccinate others who are part of 1b and beyond,” says Dr. Alex Samuel, Director of Chesterfield Health District.

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City of Richmond declares State of Emergency due to “credible threats” related to planned protests

The city’s declaration opens up funds for emergency use and was voted into effect unanimously by City Council Monday evening.

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The City of Richmond and Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration has declared a State of Emergency for the city due to what officials call “credible threats” of violence related to planned protests leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20th.

The declaration follows Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a statewide State of Emergency, which allowed the administration to send National Guard troops and State Troopers to Washington, D.C. to help with security, logistics, and other immediate needs following the insurrection at the Capitol last week.

The city’s declaration opens up funds for emergency use and was voted into effect unanimously by City Council Monday evening.

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