Neglected, overgrown, and tucked away deep in the woods of the East End of Richmond surrounded by two landfills, Historic Evergreen Cemetery was easy to miss. That is destined to change now that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has awarded this sacred site official designation as “a site of memory associated with the Slave Route Project”—one of the first in the world.
“Historic Evergreen Cemetery, which was the final resting place for thousands of African-Americans born during or shortly after the end of slavery, has great potential to encourage reflection on their many contributions to Virginia and United States history,” writes Ali Moussa Iye, Director of the Slave Route Project based in Paris.
“We congratulate the work jointly undertaken by volunteers, families, community leaders, and the nonprofit organization Enrichmond Foundation to restore the cemetery landscape and educate young generations about the symbolic importance of this place,” Iye added.
The UNESCO designation marks the one-year anniversary of the creation of Evergreen’s restoration advisory team, a group that includes former state Secretary of Administration Viola O. Baskerville, Dr. Johnny Mickens III, great-grandson of Maggie L. Walker, and John Mitchell, great-great nephew of newspaper editor and civil rights leader John Mitchell, Jr.
“Evergreen is not only a Richmond treasure, but it stands as an outdoor monument and museum of national—and international—significance,” said Viola Baskerville. “Here rest thousands of individuals who secured their freedom to create universities, establish churches, and form civic organizations that forever redefined the idea of America,” she added.
“UNESCO’s recognition of Evergreen is further proof that we are part of a profound, long-awaited moment, in which descendants, scholars, and stewards of historic sites are coming together to repair the past,” said Ted Maris-Wolf, a historian who facilitates the advisory team and restoration process for the Enrichmond Foundation. “Together, we are bridging cultures and languages to properly honor those who left enduring legacies, but never themselves got their due,” he said.
In monthly meetings held at partner institution Virginia Union University, the advisory team continues to guide Evergreen’s restoration master-planning process, which will produce a multiyear blueprint for the restoration of the sacred site’s 60-acres, thousands of memorials, and five miles of pathways.