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Restoring history | A look at the Virginia bills aiming to improve conditions of historical African American cemeteries

Several of the bills have been introduced by Hampton Roads lawmakers.

ISLE OF WIGHT COUNTY, Va. — Sometimes moving forward first means restoring and honoring the past.

“The voices of constituents really start the process," Virginia Delegate Marcia Price told 13News Now Tuesday. "People alerting us to where these cemeteries are, and there are some you’d drive by and never realize is a cemetery.”

Several Virginia lawmakers have filed bills in this year's Virginia General Assembly that if passed, would work toward improving the maintenance and upkeep of historical African American cemeteries across the Commonwealth.

HB 809: Historical African American cemeteries and graves; Isle of Wight, Prince George, and Surry Counties

This bill introduced by Del. Price adds four cemeteries from Isle of Wight County and eight from Surry County to the list of cemeteries in which qualified organizations (such as local non-profits) can receive funding from the Department of Historic Resources, specifically for the preservation of these historical sites.

This is a bill with both a professional and personal connection for Del. Price.

“My great great grandfather and his wife, are actually in one of the cemeteries out there," she said.

Del. Price also mentioned that the genesis of this bill originated from local concern from Surry County, and that local organizations in the area are ready to step in to care for the sites. 

“These cemeteries in the bill have been flagged by those that live in the area, as ones that could get that love and attention, so we’re trying to draw down those funds, to make sure the land and history is preserved," she said.

HB 727: Historical African American cemeteries; disbursement of funds, qualified organization

On Tuesday, Del. Jeion War (D- House District 92) told 13News Now that in essence, this is a bill to allow cities and municipalities to more easily access funding for this specific issue. 

The summary as introduced reads:

Expands the definition of a qualified organization that may receive funds for maintenance of a historical African American cemetery to include any locality whose purpose for applying for funding from the Department of Historic Resources is to maintain a neglected historical African American cemetery, or a portion thereof, that is located within its jurisdictional bounds.  

The summary goes on to say:

Current law requires a qualified organization to apply for any such grant only after it has received initial funding for the maintenance and care of a historical African American cemetery.

HB 140: Historical African American cemeteries; changes date of establishment for qualification of funds

This bill, introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn (D- House District 70) expands the time frame of which cemeteries can qualify for appropriated funding.

The bill's summary as introduced reads:

Changes the date of establishment that qualifies historical African American cemeteries for appropriated funds to care for such cemeteries from prior to January 1, 1900, to prior to January 1, 1948. 

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