Ms. Fleming was also involved but quit several years ago. She worries that the group’s vision could seem disrespectful, with its potential appeal to tourists, history buffs and people out for a bike ride. “I don’t want to see it Disneyfied,” she said.
At Friends of East End, a volunteer group that has worked for years to restore and clean up the once overgrown, refuse-strewn property, some members said they felt they had been pushed aside by the new owner and ignored by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, a state agency that backed Enrichmond’s proposal.
“The whole Enrichmond takeover was engineered,” said Brian Palmer, a photographer and writer who volunteers with the group.
Mr. Sydnor said some conflict was probably inevitable because taking responsibility for the cemeteries also meant putting policies in place for operation and management. “The difficulty lies in the fact that no policies or guidelines have been in place for at least 50 years,” he said in an email.
What a rebuilt historic Black cemetery should be, and what story it should tell, is a complicated thing. One anthropologist who has studied African-American outdoor spaces across the South, Grey Gundaker, a professor at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., said the imprint of ancient African practices echoed in some places more than others. In some cemeteries, the dead were honored with piles of old broken crockery or glassware, symbolizing the idea that things broken in this world are mended in the next. But many cemeteries in the 1800s, both for white and Black people, were also treated as de facto parks.
“They would have been places to go to stroll,” she said. “It was a Sunday afternoon thing; you went in your fine clothes.”
For Ms. Baskerville the ultimate question is whether the stories are remembered from what she called “freedom’s first generation.”
“We put up these Confederate monuments in public squares as a homage to a lost cause that was really a lie,” she said. “But the real builders of the cities and the states and the nation, their narrative is still not told.”
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