Woodland Cemetery is a quiet gem of beauty
1/7/2021, 6 p.m.
Nestled between Richmond’s Highland Park neighborhood and the Henrico County boundary lines lies Woodland Cemetery, a quiet, somewhat isolated cemetery that is a gem of a beauty.
Since its opening in 1917, Woodland has been the final resting place for thousands of Richmond’s African-American citizens, some famous and others not so famous.
As with many African-American cemeteries across the country, the dark cloud of neglect and overgrowth hovered over Woodland for many years, often a source of shame and embarrassment. However, these clouds are slowly passing and Woodland is once again showing its quiet and serene beauty.
Avenues of headstones, monuments and obelisks are once again gleaming as the morning and afternoon sun beams on these works of art made from granite, marble and other stone. Many are the work of John Henry Brown, a prominent stonemason in Richmond. Newspaperman John Mitchell, Woodland’s creator – but he is not buried there—planned it perfectly with its tranquil landscape and smooth hillside.
As with Evergreen and East End cemeteries, a dedicated army of volunteers gather regularly at Woodland, clearing away brush and debris, removing overgrown vegetation of ivy and vines, cutting down unsightly bushes and trees, thus allowing the original pavements and roadways to be seen again and revealing the resting place of Charles T. Russell, the prominent African-American architect whose work can be seen around the city. The cemetery is under new ownership and has a revived spirit of excitement.
Unlike other cemeteries, Woodland has its original chapel building still intact. One can only imagine the bright future it has, possibly as a museum or art gallery, or perhaps a special place for cemetery research.
I began volunteering at Woodland several years ago when it was brought to my attention that the gravesite of the Rev. John Jasper, founder of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, was in need of some
TLC. Armed with my lawnmower, weed whacker and pruning shears, I began work originally on the Jasper gravesite , then the next gravesite, and the next one. And before I knew it, I became addicted to Woodland and its role in African-American history.
As the plight and future of African-American cem- eteries continue to be a source of conversation and concern, now is an excellent time to view the beauty of these sacred grounds. With the winter season upon us, the grounds are quiet and vegetation is dormant, thus the perfect opportunity to see the “beautiful bones” of these sacred burial grounds.
On a recent afternoon, after wrapping up my volunteer work, the setting sunlight illuminated the many headstones and monuments at Woodland, and it dawned over me what a beautiful, quiet gem we have in Richmond.