Gone Missing: Dr. R. F. Tancil / by Erin Hollaway Palmer + Brian Palmer

 Plot of Dr. Richard Fillmore Tancil and family, East End Cemetery, Henrico Co., Virginia, July 26, 2015. Dr. Tancil's headstone has since disappeared. Photo: Brian Palmer

Plot of Dr. Richard Fillmore Tancil and family, East End Cemetery, Henrico Co., Virginia, July 26, 2015. Dr. Tancil's headstone has since disappeared. Photo: Brian Palmer

We received some disturbing news about East End this afternoon. John, the coordinator of the cleanup effort, had gone to the cemetery to be interviewed by CBS 6 (Richmonders, the story will air tomorrow, July 30, at 6 p.m.). He first noticed that a large amount of trash had been unloaded into the Dumpster, which is meant for brush only. Worse, he discovered that Dr. R. F. Tancil's headstone appears to have been stolen. It was nowhere to be found.

The picture above is from Sunday evening, when Brian and I spent several hours at the cemetery; I was working to uncover a plot nearby and made numerous branch-hauling trips past Dr. Tancil's grave to the road just beyond.

Dr. Tancil (1859–1928) was among Richmond's most prominent African American citizens in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He graduated from Howard University with a degree in medicine and was the founder and president of the Nickel Savings Bank. His home in Church Hill was just a few blocks from where we'll be moving at the end of this week. 

I don't know what possesses people to desecrate graves, though I could certainly make a few guesses in this case. East End, a historic African American cemetery, has suffered from decades of neglect—it was completely overgrown until volunteers began clawing back the vines in the summer of 2013—at the edge of a city that has gone to great lengths to limit if not destroy the power of the black community. This is not a recent phenomenon. This stretches back to Reconstruction (to say nothing of slavery itself). By abandoning East End, Henrico County and the City of Richmond have made very clear in yet another way who matters and who doesn't. With historic disregard as a backdrop, why would someone think twice about removing a headstone—which until recently wasn't even visible—from a place invested with no value by the powers that be? 

We're hoping that the authorities, whom John has notified, will deal with this matter with the seriousness it deserves.