Local nonprofit Virginia Roots is working with artist Barry O’Keefe to raise funds for the reclamation of Richmond’s historic East End Cemetery.
Three woodcut portraits of famous African Americans buried in Richmond’s neglected cemeteries are being sold to raise funds for the volunteers. All profit from sales will go towards renting goats to help clear Kudzu, and renting dumpsters to transport brush from worksites.
The three portraits of Maggie L. Walker, Rosa D. Bowser, and John Mitchell Jr., all buried at Richmond’s East End or Evergreen cemeteries, were made using a combination of wood block prints and letterpress. The prints include images of Richmond landmarks associated with each historic figure, including the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. Each print is available in a limited edition of 5.
East End Cemetery is one of a group of historic African American cemeteries in Richmond, Virginia known as the Four Cemeteries at Evergreen. Many of Richmond’s most prominent African American residents are buried in these cemeteries. Because early charters made no provisions for ongoing maintenance, individual families were required to care for their relatives’ graves. As a result, as family members have died or moved away, most of the cemetery has returned to the wilderness. Today, volunteers working to return the cemeteries to their former grandeur.
Rosa L. Dixon Bowser (1855-1931) was an educator, civic leader and civil rights activist. She helped found and served as president of Virginia’s first professional association of African American teachers. Richmond’s first library for African American citizens, today the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, was established in her honor in 1925. She is buried in East End Cemetery.
Maggie Lena Walker (1867-1934) was a nationally prominent African American business leader, educator, newspaper editor and Civil Rights activist. She was the first African American woman to found a bank. Maggie Walker High School, today known as the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, was founded in her honor in 1937. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery
John Mitchell Jr. (1863 – 1929) was a pioneering newspaper editor, politician and businessman. As editor of the Richmond Planet, he raised the newspaper to national prominence in the struggle against Jim Crow. Mitchell represented Jackson Ward in the Richmond city government, organized a successful boycott of the segregated trolley system and ran for Governor of Virginia. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
Barry O’Keefe was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. He received a BA in English and Russian Studies from the College of William and Mary in 2010, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Printmaking at Ohio University.