While wandering through overgrown sections of Richmond/Henrico County, Virginia's East End Cemetery, I found the grave of an African American veteran, Charles Watkins, beneath a bonnet of ivy. Just yards away, Erin and other volunteers were finding long-obscured graves beneath vines and leaves and brambles—Glenn Nelson Jones, June Anderson, and others. Volunteer coordinator John Shuck estimates that the East End cleanup effort has revealed over 800 graves—and that they've beat back the forest from 15 percent of what was once one of Richmond's most prominent burial grounds for black folk. This means that there are likely thousands more graves waiting to be stumbled over and upon.
This is a series of still photos of Erin and Justin clearing English ivy and vines from the headstone of Ryland and Sarah Lewis at East End Cemetery. Ryland was a "head waiter," according to his death certificate. He died at 57. Sarah, listed as a "domestic" on her death certificate, passed away twelve years after Ryland, at age 64. Their plot is one among thousands at the abandoned African American cemetery in Henrico County and the City of Richmond that volunteers are reclaiming from nature. Slowly, but surely.