People’s Memorial Cemetery

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NRHP Listing Date


NRHP Reference Number


On land deeded by Edith and Henry Williams in 1840, 1865, and 1880, People’s Memorial Cemetery in Petersburg became the largest African American cemetery in the city during an era when segregationist policies required separate burial grounds for blacks. Those same policies, however, provided opportunities for African American undertakers, coffin-makers, and tombstone carvers to establish their own businesses. People’s Cemetery—as is true of many of Petersburg’s historically black cemeteries—today preserves evidence of black-owned and operated undertaking and artisan businesses. Of particular interest on many gravestones is the presence of a small “lodge stone” that denotes the interred person’s membership in one of the benevolent societies that were organized in Petersburg within the black community to provide aid to members and their families. Benevolent societies, which fostered community cohesion, served an important social function for African Americans in the absence of governmental support (that was often available to whites) in a segregated society. People’s Cemetery contains stones of concrete, marble, and granite, as well as Victorian and other early 20th-century designs. The cemetery was bought and maintained by members of the benevolent societies until 1931.
[Listed under the African American Cemeteries of Petersburg Multiple Property Documentation (MPD) Form.]

Last Updated: January 31, 2024

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VLR: Virginia Landmarks Register
NPS: National Park Service
NRHP: National Register of Historic Places
NHL: National Historic Landmark

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