Seth Freed Wessler, Brian Palmer, and Erin Hollaway Palmer discuss in “Black Deaths Matter” and “Reclaiming Black History, One Grave at a Time” the neglect and current state of historically black cemeteries in St. Louis Missouri (Greenwood Cemetery) and the city of Richmond (East End Cemetery). The articles mention difficulties with families being able to locate their loved ones due to headstones being covered up by grass, weeds, dirt, surrounding forests, and garbage. What makes these articles most significant however is the historic phenomena that have lead to these harsh realities to exist in black cemeteries and the fact that these issues are fairly nonexistent in white dominated cemeteries due to adequate resources being available from private and public funds to keep these areas maintained.
Based on reading the articles, neglected cemeteries seem to be a result of a lack of private endowment. Wessler’s article states that “It is the condition of wealth and race… ‘that wealth builds more wealth.’ But on average, black households have a nickel for every dollar of assets and savings possessed by a white family. Without wealth, families fall behind, neighborhoods decline, and cities of the dead become overgrown forests” (Wessler 11). Palmers’ article states that “Public funds are earmarked for certain groups to care for Confederate graves, including more than 2,000 at neighboring Oakwood Cemetery, under section 10.1-2211 of the Virginia state code. Perhaps a similar arrangement could be made to honor the formerly enslaved and their’ descendants” (Palmer 3). I believe the issue of private endowments and more public funds being allocated to black cemeteries can only be addressed once governments and non-profits create more initiatives for blacks to become involved in business and have access to better financial and educational resources in general.
As an African-American who comes from the inner city (Richmond), I personally have never really noticed this issue within my community, mainly as a result of not spending much time in cemeteries throughout my life. I also believe my lack of awareness to this issue may be a result of only visiting grave sites located in fairly wide open spaces that weren’t surrounded by many trees or small plants and had grass that was fairly maintained. Despite my lack of awareness to this issue, it’s existence does not surprises me. The socioeconomic disparities that exist in the city of Richmond can actively be seen throughout the town and they undoubtedly allow for issues such as neglected cemeteries to become a reality. Despite the solution I proposed to attack this issue, I do also acknowledge that it’s based off of my own experiences and limited imagination, which leads me to wonder, what exactly is the best way to bring my ancestors justice as they rest in peace?