A state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources commemorating Petersburg’s People’s Memorial Cemetery, a historic African American burial ground dating to 1840, will be dedicated this weekend.
The public dedication and unveiling ceremony for the marker will begin at 2 p.m., Sunday, November 8, at the marker’s location at the entrance to the cemetery at 334 S. Crater Road, Petersburg. Transportation will be available for people interested in attending the event. A shuttle will be at the Petersburg Public Library (201 W. Washington Street) beginning at 1:15 p.m.
Speakers will include Petersburg city manager William E. Johnson III and city preservation planner Kathleen Morgan; Dr. Lauranett Lee, of the Virginia Historical Society; and historian Lucious Edwards of Virginia State University. Musical contributions will be provided by soloist Brian White.
People’s Memorial Cemetery, as it is known today, dates to 1840 when 28 members of Petersburg’s large community of free African Americans purchased a one-acre tract to serve as a burial ground, according to the highway marker.
“Subsequent acquisitions of adjacent land created a cemetery complex later known as People’s Memorial,” the marker states. The cemetery has numerous grave markers “bearing the insignia of mutual aid societies and fraternal orders” that “reflect the importance of these organizations to the community,” in the marker’s words.
The graves include those who were enslaved, a 19th-century member of the Virginia House of Delegates, veterans of the Civil War and other wars through to World War II, among hundreds of other African Americans.
People’s Memorial Cemetery was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in 2007 and the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with the installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,500 official state markers, most maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, as well as by local partners in jurisdictions outside of VDOT’s authority such as Petersburg.
Text of the marker:
People’s Memorial Cemetery
Twenty-eight members of Petersburg’s large com¬munity of free African Americans purchased a one-acre tract to serve as a burial ground in 1840. Subsequent acquisitions of adjacent land created a cemetery complex later known as People’s Memo¬rial. Buried here are slaves, an antislavery writer whose grave is listed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, a 19th-century member of the Virginia House of Delegates, vet¬erans of the Civil War through World War II, and hundreds of other black residents. Numerous grave markers bearing the insignia of mutual aid societ¬ies and fraternal orders reflect the importance of these organizations to the community.