Virginia Preservation Conference holds workshop focusing on Daughters of Zion Cemetery

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Sometimes cemeteries get old, they age, and the people who once took care of them move on, but the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion are determined to protect the sacred cemetery that has been on Oak Street for years.

"I'm just thrilled that we've been able to get the community involved and everyone seems to want to be involved in the restoration efforts and preservation efforts," said Edwina St. Rose, member of the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion.

This year, the Virginia Preservation Conference was held in Charlottesville and at a workshop at City Space, historians, conservators, archaeologist and descendants met to discuss ways to give the cemetery a face lift. Some of the headstones have tilted, fallen and have become detached.

"We've been allotted $80,000 to work on the cemetery," said Bernadette Whitsett-Hammond of the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion. "That's a significant amount of money. Of course, that's not going to do everything that needs to be done here, but it's a wonderful start for us."

Archaeologist Steve Thompson with the Rivanna Archaeological Service says that there are 200 burials that are known on the basis of headstones. He says one of the issues he's dealing with is how to identify the unmarked burial sites. He believes it can be done using ground penetrating radar, but admits that it won't be easy.

"Not to a depth that you would disturb human burial, but deep enough that you would begin to see the outline of grave shafts, the back of the grave shafts extending to the ground," said Thompson.

Now, the group members are crossing their fingers, with hopes of getting just some of the things on their wish list.

"I would like to see some type of enclosure where there is landscaping or a fence, whatever is historically appropriate to protect the cemetery. Right now, it's very open," said Whitsett-Hammond.

Each May, Preservation Virginia announces Virginia's Most Endangered Historic Places. This year, the the Daughters of Zion Cemetery was on that list. There is hope that the successes at the cemetery can serve as a model for preserving and protecting other African-American graveyards.

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