Ivy Talk: Daughters of Zion Cemetery
Join us as the members of Preservers of Daughters of Zion Cemetery discuss their work to restore and preserve the historic cemetery. Over the years, the Daughters of Zion Cemetery, located on the corner of Oak and First Street South in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been known by many names including Society, Zion, Old Oakwood, Oak Hill and Samaritan Cemetery. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. The approximately two-acre burial ground was established in 1873 by members of the Daughters of Zion Society, an African American women’s benevolent organization that sought to support the needs of African Americans. One of the important efforts conducted by this group was to provide a place of dignified burial.
Although the Daughters of Zion Cemetery remained an active burial ground until 1995, after 1933 there was no longer an organization available to maintain the cemetery that had fallen into disrepair. In the early 1970s, the City declared the cemetery abandoned and assumed responsibility for its upkeep.
In 2015, the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery organized with the mission to restore and preserve the historic cemetery that was subsequently included on Preservation Virginia’s 2016 list of Most Endangered Historic Places. After the City allocated $80K to assist with the restoration efforts, the Preservers began working with the City to address the broken and discolored markers, erosion and trees that were in decline. The Preservers also arranged to have ground-penetrating radar (GPR) surveys conducted which revealed that the cemetery contained more than twice the 300 graves originally estimated. The Preservers are continuing their restoration efforts and through extensive research are attempting to identify as many of the unknown burials as possible.
The Daughters of Zion Cemetery is one of a few remaining sites in Charlottesville that retains a connection to the vital role played by a Reconstruction-era African American mutual aid society in the development of Charlottesville’s post-Emancipation African American community.