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Donna Mayo Smith

Donna Mayo Smith, 53, of Ivor passed away Monday, May 7, 2018. She was predeceased by her parents, Emma and Thurman Mayo; husband, Carl E. Smith; and sister, Deborah M. Crocker.

Left to cherish her memory are her children, Elizabeth Smith of Clarksburg, WV and Elijah Smith of Emporia, VA; grandchildren, Emma, Ethan, and Elyssa; a brother, Thurman “Al” Mayo of Smithfield, VA; a brother-in-law, Curtis Crocker(Gina) of Ivor, VA; nephews, David and Daniel Crocker.

Donna worked for the Commonwealth’s Department of Corrections in Sussex County as a Corrections Officer. She loved to cook, animals, and her God. Memorial donations may be made to the Isle of Wight County Humane Society, 13044 Poor House Rd, Windsor, VA 23487. A graveside service will be held in Windsor Cemetery on Friday, May 11, 2018 at 2:00PM. Online condolences can be registered at

Latest Heist Highlights Cryptocurrency Trading Risks

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

The most recent bitcoin theft involving one of India’s largest cryptocurrency trading platforms serves as a reminder of the risks associated with buying and selling internet money.

Coinsecure fell victim to a heist in April, resulting in the loss of 438 bitcoins – roughly $3.6 million at current bitcoin prices.

According to Coinsecure’s website, the stolen tokens were siphoned off to a bitcoin address, also known as a wallet, between 12:35 a.m. and 6:29 a.m., April 9. Though a chief security officer notified the platform’s technology head, questions remained over what happened and how it was handled.

Coinsecure’s incident is the latest of a growing list involving cryptocurrency exchange thefts – one of the major issues that leave proponents and critics divided on the future of such decentralized digital currencies, which don’t require a central bank but rather function through individual transactions.

Supporters believe that cryptocurrencies, like bitcoins, are the wave of the future – a paradigm shift from the traditional banking system. For example, Tim Draper, a bitcoin supporter and founder of venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, predicted on Twitter in April that bitcoins will be worth $250,000 each by 2022.

As a major investor in bitcoins, Draper’s optimistic prediction shouldn’t be shocking, but sharply contrasts opinions held by other Wall Street powerhouses, among them Warren Buffett and Charles Munger of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Skeptics, or “nocoiners” as they are called in crypto-culture, are accused by critics for opposing bitcoin because of competitive reasons. But many observers consider the speculative value of the cryptocurrency to be a major problem.

“In most markets, when you trade an instrument there is some purpose to the instrument underneath. You buy a stock because there’s a company that has earnings, you buy currencies because there’s a country that has a gross domestic product – imports and exports,” said David Golumbia, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of “Politics of Bitcoins: Software as Right-Wing Extremism.”

“Bitcoin is just bitcoin; there is nothing that drives its value.”

Concerns over speculative value are one possible reason these e-coins have received a risky image. Other factors include the hacks and heists that spotlight security issues within the platforms many coin-holders use for trading.

For example, Coincheck, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in Asia, suffered a hack in January that resulted in roughly $530 million of stolen funds, overtaking the disappearance of $480 million worth of bitcoins from an exchange called Mt. Gox in 2014.

According to


Golumbia, these exchange companies are one of the major ways individuals make off with millions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins. In many cases, he said, the exchanges themselves were responsible for the thefts.

The popularity of the exchanges gives a glimpse into understanding the difficulties associated with buying and selling cryptocurrencies.

A bitcoin owner who wants to sell it for U.S. dollars would have to use a blockchain, a digital list that allows people to transfer cryptocurrencies and also publicly records the transactions.

“There’s no organization associated with that; there’s no company,” said Golumbia, whose book examines the influence of libertarian and conservative thought in the cryptocurrency movement. “All you can do on that network is send bitcoins from one address to another and there’s a fee associated with that. That’s all you’re doing – moving the money.”

However, there’s no guarantee someone will accept the transaction on blockchain. This is where exchanges come in. Cryptocurrency exchanges, such as Coinsecure, connect buyers and sellers for a price. They act as middlemen, taking a fraction of the currency as payment for making the trade happen.

“Roughly speaking, you pay a little bit more than you would on the blockchain network,” Golumbia explained, and “the transactions will happen relatively quickly because it’s kind of internal to [exchanges], as opposed to putting [a transaction] up on the blockchain where it could literally never happen.”

Not only that, there may also be concerns about Russian involvement in blockchain technology. Last year, members from over two dozen countries attended a meeting in Tokyo to discuss standards for blockchain. When asked why Russia was so interested in the technology, a Russian intelligence agent said that “the internet belongs to the Americans – but blockchain will belong to us,” according to the New York Times.

Because there is no guarantee that a buyer will actually pay for the bitcoin, exchanges have become popular for trading cryptocurrencies, but they also “essentially hold your bitcoin, and that isn’t how the bitcoin network was supposed to work,” Golumbia said. Someone who owns cryptocurrency tokens and uses an exchange to buy and sell must rely on the exchange’s security.

“These securities have been shown to be real places of failure,” Golumbia said, “either because people can hack them, or because the operators have been dishonest and walk away with a lot of the [tokens].”

Naval Ravikant, CEO of AngelList, a website for company start-ups and investors, views the issue differently. “Blockchains are a new invention that allows meritorious participants in an open network to govern without a ruler and without money,” he said in a 2017 tweetstorm.

The Mt. Gox hack serves as an example of the cybersecurity risks associated with using these exchanges.

Short for “Magic: The Gathering Online Exchange,” Mt. Gox was created in 2006 to buy and sell trading cards online for the fantasy game, Magic: The Gathering. In 2010, Mt. Gox switched to exchanging bitcoins instead of trading cards, soon becoming the largest bitcoin exchange on the planet.

When Mt. Gox began exchanging bitcoins, the company “started to have huge amounts of money in their accounts,” Golumbia said. “Those accounts are like bank accounts, but they don’t have anything like the security infrastructure that a bank has.”

By the beginning of 2015, Mt. Gox was bankrupt, $480 million in cryptocurrencies had vanished, and Mark Karpelès, the chief executive of the company, was arrested by Japanese police in connection to the company’s collapse.

While cryptocurrency exchanges add a level of transaction security, there’s no guarantee the exchanges themselves are legitimate or have proper security in customer holdings.

Considering the security risks associated with the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies and that nothing truly backsthem, a question remains: Are these currencies anything like the yen or dollar? Or is the trading just glorified gambling?

Golumbia leans toward the latter and believes regulators will likely think the same.

But Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist, has said that bitcoins were like “bars of gold in a vault that never move” and that it’s a “hedge of sorts against the whole world falling apart,” according to CNBC.

So far in 2018, a few companies have stopped allowing bitcoins as acceptable payment, including Microsoft and Steam, a large video game distribution platform, according to Forbes magazine. In January, the North American Bitcoin Conference stopped allowing individuals to pay for the conference’s tickets with cryptocurrencies, according to Business Insider.

Regulation could be a crucial step for the future of cryptocurrencies, potentially convincing more companies to accept it as a form of payment.

Goldman Sachs understands this, which is why they soon hope to trade bitcoins if the company can receive regulatory approval, according to the New York Times.

However, regulation could come with a catch.

“If [regulators] did allow a market, it would be because the currency didn’t move very much,” Golumbia said. “In which case, who would care?”

This is a double-edged sword for cryptocurrencies. If bitcoins were to become a stabilized currency, they would lose some of their appeal. If someone bought a bitcoin for $250,000 in 2022 – assuming Draper is correct about his prediction – and sold it for $251,000 in 2023, traders would no longer have the huge earning potential that made cryptocurrencies so popular.

“This has been the paradox of the bitcoin stuff from the beginning,” Golumbia said.

Meantime, Coinsecure has been assuring customers that funds held by the company are safe and that an investigationis underway. The company also stated that all bitcoins will be returned to customers if recovered. If the bitcoins are not recovered, 10 percent will be refunded in bitcoins and 90 percent in rupees.

“We are working with global exchanges and experts to help us track the movement of funds,” the company stated on its website.

Opponents and Supporters Disagree on Future of Cryptocurrencies

As bitcoin grows in popularity as a standard for internet money, becoming a common topic in mainstream media and economic communities, skeptics and supporters disagree where the future of cryptocurrencies is headed.

Bitcoin supporters see benefits in a currency market untethered from traditional regulation.

Mike Novogratz, the former manager of Fortress Investment Group, is starting a $500 million cryptocurrency hedge fund. Novogratz believes that people “can make a whole lot of money on the way up, and we plan on it,” according toBloomberg.

Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning, free-market economist, made remarks in the 1990s that seemed to presage cryptocurrencies, according to Coindesk. “The one thing that’s missing, but that will soon be developed, is a reliable e-cash, a method whereby on the Internet you can transfer funds from A to B, without A knowing B or B knowing A,” Friedman said.

But many experts and economists are skeptical of anonymous internet trading using cryptocurrencies. They cite such concerns as the drug trade, tax evasion, and market instability.

Charles Munger, vice chairman for Berkshire Hathaway, called bitcoins a “noxious poison” at a Daily Journal Corp.meeting in February. Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway’s multi-billionaire CEO, told MarketWatch that “you can’t value bitcoin because it’s not a value-producing asset.”

Only time will tell how cryptocurrencies will integrate into future markets – if bitcoins are “Enron in the making” as billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said on CNBC, or if they’ll soon be worth a quarter of a million dollars each as bitcoin supporter and venture capitalist Tim Draper predicted.

As of May 3, the price of a single bitcoin was just over $9,500.

May 2018 SVCC Diesel Technology Program Graduates

The Diesel Technology program of Southside Virginia Community College held a graduation ceremony  on May 3, 2018 to recognize students who completed the two semester program and received a Career Studies Certificate for that accomplishment.  Those completing the program are First Row, Left to Right:Jacob Craven (Dundas), Kevin Matthews (Wakefield), Nick Cundiff (Midlothian), Chase Canter (Gold Vein), James Johnson (Lynchburg).Second Row, L to R:Greyson Hensley (Crewe), Jared Warren (Farmville), Bryan Lewis (Instructor), Thomas Parrish (Blackstone), Tyler Johnson (Burkeville), Travis Weston (Red Oak),  Justin Irving (Spring Grove), Jacob Monger (Prince George), Russ Hicks (Instructor), Billy McGraw (Instrutor).Back Row, L to R: Dillon Harvey (Gladys), Malik Ellsworth (Emporia), Jacob Walker (Smithfield), Nolin Watkins (Chesterfield), William Chilton (Moseley).

Virginia Battles a ‘Crime that Hides in Plain Sight’: Human Trafficking

By Sophia Belletti and Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Robin Foster had worked with abused and neglected children for years, but it wasn’t until she came face to face with a trafficking victim that she fully recognized the dimensions of the crisis that brought a 17-year-old to a hospital emergency room early one morning.

The teen came to the hospital complaining of a sore throat but ran off when Foster tried to call her mom for permission to treat her.

“I chased her up the street at 1 in the morning,” Foster recalled.

Foster, who heads the Child Protect Team at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University, said she later learned from police the girl had run away from her group home in Northern Virginia and was being trafficked by a man in a hotel in Richmond.

Human trafficking – a $150 billion global criminal enterprise, according to the International Labor Organization – is increasingly on the radars of law enforcement, politicians and nonprofits across the country. Statistics show the problem is worse in Virginia, and in the Richmond area, than in many other states and localities.

In 2017, Virginia ranked 15th in the United States for the most reported cases of human trafficking for sex and cheap or free employment. Last year, the state reported 156 cases, and 70 percent of those were sex trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Richmond ranked ninth nationwide in the number of calls per capita to the hotline, according to the organization’s 2017 report on the 100 most populous U.S. cities. Virginia Beach ranked 71st for calls per capita and Norfolk was 77th.

The Richmond region’s location at the junction of interstates 64 and 95 makes the area an attractive place for traffickers, as does its large tourism and hospitality industry, says the Richmond Justice Initiative, a faith-based, anti-trafficking group.

While there is not an official estimate on the number of trafficking victims in the United States, the Polaris Project, a nonprofit nongovernmental organization that runs the hotline, estimates the number to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed a bill giving federal and state prosecutors greater power to pursue websites that host sex-trafficking ads and enabling victims and state attorneys general to file lawsuits against those sites.

Trump’s action came a few days after several executives from the website were arrested on 93 indictments including knowingly facilitating trafficking through their website and allegedly laundering millions of dollars. The deaths of some trafficking victims have allegedly been linked to the website.

However, critics of the bill say it conflates legitimate and willing sex work with forced trafficking.

“I think it’s ridiculous that the two are being compared because the key difference is that trafficking victims cannot choose to stop working, they are not being empowered by what they do like sex workers are, and it (the bill) doesn’t address the reasons why people are being trafficked,” said Fay Chelmow, founder and director of ImPACT Virginia.

Chelmow founded ImPACT, a nonprofit fighting to prevent and end the sex trafficking of children, in May 2015 after reading the U.S. Department of Education report, “Human Trafficking in America’s Schools.” Chelmow said she was alarmed to learn how vulnerable youth are lured into the commercial sex industry by traffickers who scout middle and high schools.

“There still needs to be more advocating work around simply educating people that this is an issue in the first place, because trafficking is very profitable,” said Chelmow, a registered nurse since 1984 and a former hospice and palliative care nurse in Boston, Massachusetts, before moving to Richmond in 2010. One of the reasons trafficking is so lucrative for criminal perpetrators, she said, is that they can sell the same person “over and over and over again.”

Human trafficking “is a crime that hides in plain sight,” said Charlotte Gomer, press secretary for Attorney General Mark Herring. “It is very difficult to identify victims and prosecute traffickers. Trafficking is about supply and demand and, unfortunately, as long as there is a demand for commercial sex and cheap or free labor, human trafficking will continue to exist.”

She said the attorney general’s office works with the city of Richmond and Henrico and Chesterfield counties to provide training, resources, victim services and operational assistance to combat trafficking.

During this year’s General Assembly session, Herring won passage of legislation that will make it harder for people who are charged with trafficking-related crimes to post bail – essentially placing a presumption of no bond for such offenses.

Del. Michael Mullin, D-Newport News, cosponsored the legislation with Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond. Mullin, who works as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Suffolk focusing on sexual assault and gang-related cases, said that fighting human trafficking transcends partisan politics. The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously and has been signed by Gov. Ralph Northam.

“This is a bipartisan issue and something everyone seems to agree we need to work on,” Mullin said in a statementearlier this year.

Gomer said Herring has been working to combat human trafficking since he took office in 2014. In early 2017, Herring signed a memorandum of understanding creating the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, a partnership involving his office, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Virginia State Police and Hampton Roads law enforcement agencies, and Samaritan House, a Virginia Beach nonprofit that provides emergency shelters for domestic violence victims and homeless families.

Advocates Press for Prevention and Solutions

At Children Hospital, Foster said the biggest medical roadblock when helping child human trafficking victims is finding them a secure place, away from their exploiters.

“Where do you place these kids? So what if you recognize that they’re victims? You can’t discharge them home, so where are we putting them? A lot of the time they have drug dependency so they might have to stay in the hospital to make sure they don’t have to go through drug withdrawal,” Foster said.

Foster said helping victims is even more difficult in the case of family-controlled trafficking.

Elisabeth Corey, a survivor of family-controlled child sex trafficking and abuse, recounts those experiences in her advocacy and book, “One Voice.” She said that her encounters with domestic violence and incest began when she was 2 years old and that after years of familial sexual abuse, her father began selling her.

Corey said her parents were highly involved at medical appointments but answered the doctors’ questions with lies. For example, Corey said she was seen frequently at a young age for urinary tract infections, but her mother told nurses it was a result of bed-wetting. Corey said that should have raised alarms because bed-wetting is a symptom, not a cause of urinary tract infections. Likewise, she said the frequency she was being seen by doctors should have raised concerns.

“It was mind-blowing they would just trust what my parents said,” Corey said. “When I was being trafficked, they (medical professionals) weren’t even addressing domestic violence – so no one even had a word for trafficking, no one was even looking for it.”

It wasn’t until Corey had severe pelvic pain during a sleepover that red flags were raised. A neighbor took Corey to the emergency room after being unable to contact her parents.

Doctors alerted child protective services officials, who placed Corey in foster care in Northern Virginia.

“Foster care was so bad – I was getting raped in foster care – that I rescinded my story so that I could go back home,” Corey said. “I literally preferred my home to the foster care environment.”

In 2016, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that one out of six runaways might be children sex traffic victims and that the vast majority of those runaways had been in foster care or social services care.

Foster credited the work of Chelmow and others in drawing attention to the victimization of children by traffickers. Ten years ago, she said, the problem and strategies to fight it were “totally off the radar.” There is more awareness overall, she said, with information being placed in “schools, hospitals, airports, at bus stations – critical points people are being trafficked.”

The role of the federal government, at the same time, has helped reshape the fight against trafficking, Foster said, as has the view that “the trafficked person is a victim and not part of the problem.”

Still, many problems remain, especially among higher-risk populations – minors in the foster care or social services systems; the homeless, young people with a history of running away; and LGBTQ youth.

LGBTQ youth “are already so marginalized, and it’s all about exploiting vulnerability,” Chelmow said. “Being marginalized makes you even more vulnerable.”

Despite the wide variety of backgrounds from which young people can be trafficked, Corey said, there are common elements in identifying the abused.

“I work as a life coach all over the world, and it’s almost scary how everybody, regardless of how similar experiences are, reacts to trauma the same way,” Corey said. “We really have to get away from the idea that trafficking is in a silo because it’s not.”

Authorities investigating human trafficking should be ready to consider issues ranging from emotional abuse to financial problems, she said.

According to Foster, among the signs that medical professionals can look for is the presence of someone who is not related to the person seeking help but who acts as if they are – for example, “someone who is like an uncle but won’t really act or look like an uncle.”

Other signs include anxious behavior from a patient, the inability to speak for themselves, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Foster said practitioners should also be aware of excuses used to justify physical trauma and the possibility that any overdoses were done with the intent to commit suicide.

Some of these problems may also be seen by teachers, Corey said.

“I know, we already ask our teachers to do a lot, but they are the first responders to spotting this because they see the children every day,” Corey said. “Another solution is asking survivors what they need and what other survivors need, because we know our experience and solutions need to be trauma-informed.”

However, Corey is aware that finding survivors who are willing to speak out can be difficult due to threats to their safety from their abusers.

“Another reason they don’t come forward is that people who are trafficked have been manipulated into thinking this is their choice and it’s their fault, and they don’t know what trafficking is or what its definition is,” Corey said. “Another side of it, and this is true for me, is that they disassociate and repress the memories.”

A major part of Corey’s work as a life coach and running her website revolves around addressing how trauma manifests through memory loss. She left home at 18, but it was not until the birth of her children in her 30s that she remembered the trafficking and other forms of physical and sexual abuse she experienced.

“There were years of me going to Christmases and events with my family before I remembered the abuse,” Corey said. “I remember always feeling angry around them and like something was not right and I couldn’t name exactly what it was, but my children reminded me of what had happened. A lot of times, children will remind survivors of their own trauma.”

Corey is no longer in contact with her family. She said avoiding the generational cycle of abuse is difficult, but possible.

“I believe that anyone who abuses their children was also abused as a child, but that does not mean every person who was abused will then go on to abuse their own children,” Corey said. “There is a process to deal with the trauma and to address it.”

Virginia Communities, Legislators Breathe New Life into Preserving Black Cemeteries


By George Copeland Jr. and Thomas Jett, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – On a hot Saturday in April, volunteers work under a bright sun and the noise of buzzing insects to find and remove unchecked nature and neglect from the graves of thousands of African-Americans, from everyday citizens to some of the most important leaders in local, state and national history.

The neighboring Evergreen and East End cemeteries serve as the final resting place of Maggie Walker, the first female bank president in the U.S.; John Mitchell, a newspaper publisher who risked his life to crusade for civil rights; and Rosa Dixon Bowser, founder of the Virginia State Teachers Association.

“When Black Richmond was the ‘Harlem of the South,’ when Jackson Ward was known as ‘Black Wall Street,’ these are the people who made those places,” said Brian Palmer of the Friends of East End Cemetery volunteer group.

But the state of the burial grounds can be a stark contrast to the stature of the prominent figures buried there. Over the years, Evergreen, East End and many other black cemeteries across Virginia have fallen into disrepair, uncared for and unacknowledged. More recently, concerned residents have rallied to restore, record and maintain the history of the many laid to rest.

“It is not, shall we say, stunningly beautiful to someone who is more familiar with cemeteries like Hollywood [where Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, is buried], or the Confederate section of Oakwood, but to us, it is remarkable,” Palmer said of the work accomplished in East End since community efforts increased in 2013.

Across the commonwealth, volunteers like Palmer labor to restore the state’s African-American cemeteries, shining a light on a part of Virginia’s history often overshadowed by the legacy of the Confederacy. In recent years, these volunteers have seen support from a new source: the Virginia General Assembly, which has approved state funding for cleaning up and maintaining several of these cemeteries.

East End and Evergreen, on the line between Richmond and Henrico County, were the first African-American cemeteries in Virginia to receive help from the state government. In 2017, House Bill 1547 was signed into law. It allowed qualifying charitable organizations to collect maintenance funds for the two cemeteries – $5 annually for every person interred who lived between January 1800 and January 1900.

This led to a wave of similar legislation in 2018, with five bills passing the General Assembly. Most of the bills focused on African-American cemeteries in specific locales – CharlottesvilleLoudoun County and Portsmouth. In addition,HB 284 will extend state funding to every African-American cemetery established before 1900 and allow the caretakers of those sites to receive maintenance funds from the state.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, who introduced both pieces of legislation, said HB 284 was meant to clear up any ambiguities in HB 1547.

“This year,” McQuinn said, “we came back to say, ‘Let’s be clear: Localities have access to these funds.’”

Palmer remains ambivalent about the legislation; his group has made several attempts to reach out to and meet with McQuinn to discuss it in greater detail. In addition, Friends of East End Cemetery, a nonprofit organization, had applied to receive state funding under HB 1547 before HB 284 was filed, and a final decision from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is still pending.

Even without state support, members of the group remain focused on their work, a process of renewal where the number of volunteers can top 200, a donated wheelbarrow can be a huge boon and new discoveries are spotlighted on sites like

Palmer first stepped into East End Cemetery in the summer of 2014 with his wife Erin while making a documentary. There, they encountered an armed hunting group who said they had permission to use the grounds. (Later, Palmer said he contacted the previous owner, who contradicted this claim.)

The following year, the Palmers joined in the volunteer efforts, helping to rediscover and archive the names of people buried there more than a century ago. State officials say East End Cemetery has nearly 4,900 graves that qualify for assistance and Evergreen has 2,100.

“We’ve had quite a few groups out here,” said John Shuck, a volunteer at East End and Evergreen since 2008. The two cemeteries have received help from college students, churches and Henrico County government. “Get people coming back out, you know, in ones and twos, but it all helps.”

Similar signs of progress are evident in Evergreen Cemetery, which covers more area than East End. Evergreen’s larger scale is matched by both the size of its volunteer force and signs of disrepair.

While the grounds are visited by both tour groups and mountain bikers, Dr. Ted Maris-Wolf of the EnRichmond Foundation, Evergreen’s new owner, emphasizes the work done so far remains “a shoestring operation.” Visitors can see support for that statement: A number of memorials are broken or obscured by overgrowth, and piles of decades-old detritus, collected by workers, line some of the paths in the lower areas of the cemetery.

Maris-Wolf, formerly a professor at Virginia Union University, Randolph-Macon College and the University of Louisiana, described the potential effect of extra revenue as a “game changer, not only for us but for all the cemeteries that will receive state funding.”

Before 2017, there were attempts in the General Assembly to provide equity in state support for graveyard maintenance, but they failed. However, success has come at the municipal level, thanks largely to community organizing.

In 2015, the city of Charlottesville gave $80,000 to the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery to support their work in the city-owned burial grounds. The group hopes to “restore the extant markers, to attempt to identify the many unknown burials and to share information about the known individuals buried at the historic cemetery,” alongside videos,audio tours and an active presence on social media.

“We are very encouraged by recent legislation to provide funding for the preservation” of their cemetery and other African-American burial grounds, the group wrote. “We are hopeful that everyone will have the opportunity to tell their stories of our shared history.”

The struggle to maintain this aspect of Virginia has been long and fraught, even as the state’s black cemeteries remain unknown to most residents of the commonwealth.

Dr. Michael Blakey, an anthropologist and professor at the College of William & Mary, describes cemeteries as “the first archaeologically observable symbolic behavior, a language of memorialization, at the origins of Homo sapiens.”

“Thus, especially in slavery but for all people, cemeteries and mortuary ritual assert our humanity – human dignity – just as their desecration represents its denial.”

This is echoed by Dr. Lynn Rainville in a 2013 article published in the Journal of Field Archeology. Documenting her research into the topic in Albemarle County, Rainville described multiple black burial grounds throughout the area, neglected and overlooked due in part to housing development, racial shifts in local demographics leading to an absence in maintenance, vandalism and “inconsistencies in state laws.”

The result of this lack of care and gap in public awareness is evident even among the volunteers.

Robyn Young, along with her husband James Atkins and their daughter Cameron, continues to help reclaim East End as part of the Midlothian chapter of Jack & Jill of America. But she was struck by the fact “that I can’t find family members buried in these cemeteries for either of us,” despite being Richmond natives.

“I didn’t even know about this cemetery until today,” said Atkins, who has family buried at the nearby Oakwood Cemetery.

Palmer has encountered this juxtaposition in occasional interactions with the public.

“We still talk to people that come through and do the ‘Tsk, tsk – it’s a shame that the black community can’t take care of this place,’” Palmer said.

“The black community, through its tax dollars, has been sustaining every Confederate monument on public property in this city.”

These problems persist at a time when Virginia’s relationship with its Confederate history has grown more contentious. Legislation seeking to remove memorials to the Confederacy has repeatedly failed, while efforts to find alternative solutions have been met with criticism and outrage.

More monuments are still to come. This summer, construction will likely begin at the state Capitol on the Virginia Women’s Memorial, which will feature Confederate Capt. Sally Louisa Tompkins among a racially diverse group of notable women.

Pastor Michele Thomas of the Loudoun Freedom Center, a group that works to spotlight and protect multiple burial grounds against corporate interests and obscurity, declared historic preservation to be “one of the key civil rights issues of our time, because it’s still governed under Jim Crow laws.”

“Separate but equal is more pronounced in death than it is in life, and you can see that clearly with these properties,” Thomas said. “And so when it is our society has not evolved in our law, we’ve not evolved as a society.”

Despite such obstacles, work on African-American cemeteries continues across Virginia. The EnRichmond Foundation has partnered with Virginia Commonwealth University and other organizations in developing new techniques to improve Evergreen for both visitors and those interred, while the Friends of East End Cemetery, with help from VCU and the University of Richmond, unveiled a digital mapping of the cemetery last month.

While Palmer and his fellow volunteers still see signs of disrespect of East End from time to time, there’s a clear joy in seeing the families of those laid to rest come to the site to help ensure their ancestors’ memories are acknowledged and maintained.

“It’s inspiring, most definitely,” Palmer said, “because I think it can be kind of easy to be overwhelmed, but when you see people actually investing energy and time ...”

Visiting her parents’ and grandparents’ graves for the first time since 1994, Doris Smith described the work done so far as “fantastic.”

“Last time we were here, we couldn’t even get back here, you couldn’t even see their graves,” Smith said. “I think it’s really beautiful that people are getting out, doing and keeping it up.”

The 5 Laws Focused on Virginia’s Historically African-American Cemeteries

At the start of the 2018 legislative session, members of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates introduced five bills that would provide funding for the state’s historically African-American cemeteries. All five passed the General Assembly and have been signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.

This follows the passage in 2017 of a bill to assist two black cemeteries in Richmond and Henrico County. Until then, legislators regularly rejected attempts to address the unequal treatment of American-American grave sites and burial grounds in comparison to white-majority cemeteries and Confederate memorials.

In a 2013 article in the Journal of Field Archeology, Professor Lynn Rainville discusses this lack of equity: “Even though we have just elected an African-American president, our racially sensitive society unequally values the contributions of some individuals and communities. In the case of historical, black cemeteries, the voices of descendants and concerned residents are often ignored if a burial ground stands in the way of economic development or new construction. Conversely, it is taken as a given that ‘culturally valued’ graveyards, such as that of 19th-century presidents or white elites, will not be disturbed.”

In a statement sent to Capital News Service, a spokesperson for Northam echoed those sentiments and said the new laws “will help to expand upon the Commonwealth’s efforts to highlight, steward, and preserve additional African American cemeteries.”

Here are the new laws set to assist Virginia’s African-American cemeteries. All of them will take effect July 1:

  • House Bill 284, introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond. It adds any locality or person who owns an African-American cemetery established between January 1800 and January 1900 to the list of historic organizations qualified to receive funding for the preservation of the burial grounds. The cemetery owners may receive $5 for every person interred who lived between 1800 and 1900.
  • Senate Bill 198, introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and HB 527, filed by Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth. These identical bills add Mount Calvary Cemetery in Portsmouth to the list of historic cemeteries qualified to receive funding.
  • HB 360, introduced by Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville. It adds the Daughters of Zion Cemetery in Charlottesville to the list.
  • SB 163, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun. It adds the African-American Burial Ground in Belmont to the list.

Dr. Ted Maris-Wolf of the Evergreen Cemetery and the EnRichmond Foundation, reflecting on the swift passage of the bills through the General Assembly, said, “That was a great day, a tangible sign of progress.”

“These are sacred sites of history and memory, and for the state to help dignify them in that way, I think was an honor for everyone associated.”

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