- History of Greenville
- Historic Cemeteries
- Richland Cemetery
Richland Cemetery was established by the City of Greenville in January 1884 as the first municipal cemetery for African Americans in downtown Greenville. Richland is the final resting place of at least 1,400 individuals, including many of Greenville's most influential educators, activists, healthcare practitioners, and community leaders.
The cemetery is named for nearby Richland Creek, a branch of the Reedy River, and occupies 6 acres on a small hillside in an area formerly known as the Greenline-Spartanburg community. The graves of many buried at Richland are not marked, though remaining gravemarkers reveal important information about burial customs in the American South. Markers, fashioned of stone, brick and concrete, include symbolic images and feature both fine funerary art as well as cultural artifacts traditionally found in West African burial traditions.
Years ago, a fire destroyed valuable records needed to identify unmarked, destroyed, and illegible graves. Deeds passed down from generation to generation, are now the only way to prove with certainty graves in a family plot.
Richland Cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 4, 2005.
The Richland Cemetery Advisory Committee members are committed to preserving the history and beauty and raising awareness of the historical significance of the cemetery, while raising funds for additional capital improvements needed to develop and beautify the cemetery.
View Advisory Committee Information and Members
If you would like to make a donation to Richland Cemetery and receive notices of Annual Meetings and special events, please complete a membership form and return it by mail along with your donation.
HISTORY OF RICHLAND CEMETERY
Written by Ruth Ann Butler
Founder, Greenville Cultural Exchange Center
Old African-American cemeteries are rarely documented. They infrequently appear on maps and almost never are shown on historic plats. During slavery, African Americans attended the white churches and worshiped in the balcony of the church. They were buried either along side of the slave master's family or a separate section of the graveyard. For this reason, you will find throughout Springwood Cemetery hundreds of slave graves. It just was not important to most plantation owners to show the location of "slave burial grounds." These burial grounds, used for generations, are rarely documented by deeds or other legal instruments.
When slavery was abolished in 1865, beginning 1867 slaves were dismissed by letter from white churches to find a place to worship and a place to bury their dead. They started worshiping under a "brush arbor," a structure built from four sticks which supported brush used as a ceiling across the top with no walls.
Most of the churches in the county provided a burial ground. Churches in the city did not provide a burial ground; therefore, private cemeteries like "Richland Cemetery" and the "Hillcrest Cemetery" located in the Brutontown community were established. These cemeteries, however, are often well known to the rural African-American communities. In some cases, traditional and historical resources fail to provide certain pieces of information; therefore, long-time residents and local historians in the community provide valuable information otherwise not documented. Too often these local resources are not sought.
Traditionally, the dead was carried to the home and remained overnight for visitation. Their favorite chair and bed were draped with a black cloth. The funerals took place on Sundays.
Richland Cemetery was one of the first African American cemeteries in the City of Greenville, South Carolina. The name bears the name of the creek "Richland Creek," which is a branch of the Reedy River. The property was deeded to the City of Greenville for $2,125.00.00 in 1884 by Miss Elizabeth and Emmala Jones, who were matrons at the Anne Cigar Company. They lived at 702 East North Street. According to the 1884 deed, the Jones' deeded over to the City two lots; a two-acre lot and a 17-acre lot; located at "Spartanburg Road and Richland Creek" and "Cemetery/Tanyard" properties, respectively. In 1886, Z. Turner was the "keeper" and in 1907, Isaac Johnson was the Sexton, followed by Gaines Johnson as Sexton in 1915.
The first mention of the property as "Richland Cemetery" was in 1896, according to the City Directory dated 1896-1897.
Over the years family plots were purchased in Richland Cemetery. Families were given deeds (written documentation) to identify location of the graves; however, many graves in the cemetery are unmarked; therefore it is difficult to determine the number of unmarked graves.
It was reported in an article entitled "Richland's Unknown – gone but not forgotten" in the Greenville News dated February 3, 1983 that in 1907, a beautification report refers to the "new colored cemetery on East Elford Street" which indicates that the new location was "make shift" and unsuitable, its size inadequate, and its presence a danger to the neighborhood and to the city. "It is a costly mistake," the report continues, "it would be better for all parties concerned to seek a more level and suitable location farther out." Richland remains in its same location today.
The cemetery grounds were maintained by a sexton who lived adjacent to the site. He was responsible for selling lots, opening graves, and maintaining the walkways. By the 1940s, all plots were purchased. A six-grave lot sold for $10, according to former Springwood Sexton, the late Tom Garraux. Deeds are now the only way for a family to prove with certainty ownership of a plot.
The problem of identifying lots resulted from a fire at the Sexton's House which occurred some five (5) decades ago, destroying the records, according to Paul Ellis, City Parks and Grounds Administrator. It is uncertain when the fire took place. Another problem with identifying lots arose from the fact that families do not maintain their deeds or pass them on to another family member. Some plots are unused, others contain graves, but no tombstones. Many families could not afford tombstones. Other plots have been neglected or forgotten due to relocation of family members to other areas outside the city or state. Photo of grave at Richland Cemetery
In order to properly identify and maintain grave sites and preserve their historical value to the community, it is suggested that local officials require the installation of appropriate headstones or markers at the time of burial or shortly thereafter.
According to the City Directory in the 1920s and 1930s there was a "colored settlement" located east of Richland Creek name "Richland Hill." There is no mention of how many families were located in this community.
Richland Cemetery has served as the final resting place for some of the most influential black citizens of Greenville. Some of them include Mr. William Sewell, a contractor who built Sterling High School and the S.C. Franks Mortuary; businessman, J. P. "Pick" Chappell; Hattie Logan Duckett, founder of the Phillis Wheatley Center, and an elementary school named in her honor; Elias Holloway, businessman and writer. Ministers are Rev. J. W. Lykes, Rev. J. F. Greene. Rev. Allen Richard Burke, Rev. C. L. Logan, Rev. B. Perry Murray, Rev. S. W. Williams, Rev. B. A. Lykes, Rev. B. E. Dolphin and Rev. J. L. Fisher. Teachers included Mrs. Mesolonghi Bowels, Mrs. Fisher, Mr. Jesse L. Bates, Mrs. Anna Richardson, Ms. Ella Mae Logan, Mrs. M. Whitterspoon, Mrs. Hadden, and Mrs. M. Calhoun, Mrs. Florence Lykes and others. One of the first black nurses was Mrs. Cora Chapman, and principal, Mrs. Lena White.
Today, the cemetery is approximately six acres in size and includes over 1400 documented grave sites. The graves date back from the late 1800s up to the present. Most of the tombstones in the four sections are in good condition. However, there are several tombstones that are broken and destroyed; some are illegible, and others have no inscriptions at all.
FRIENDS OF RICHLAND CEMETERY
Friends of Richland Cemetery, a non-profit support group, promotes a culture of stewardship within city government and our community to preserve and enhance the historic Richland Cemetery.
The advisory group partners with the City Council, the City Manager, and other City of Greenville staff on the development of programs, projects and initiatives needed for the beautification, historic preservation, maintenance, and continued appreciation of the cemetery. Friends of Richland Cemetery council also raises funds to support the recommendations, as approved by City leadership.
View the Friends of Richmond members here. If you are interested in serving on the Friends of Richland Cemetery advisory council, please contact the City of Greenville Clerk's Office at 864-467-4350.
Richland Cemetery is the resting place of many of Greenville’s most prominent African American citizens including educators, entrepreneurs, and healthcare providers.
- Hattie Logan Duckett founded the Phillis Wheatley Center in 1919 as a community center for women offering educational, athletic, and social programs. Hattie Duckett Elementary School (now the Fine Arts Center) was named in her honor.
- Massalena Vivian Lawrence Bowen taught for fifty years in the Greenville County school system, forty of them at the Allen School.
- Anna McAdams Richardson, known affectionately as “Ma Richardson,” taught English at Sterling High School.
- Jesse L. Bates was an instructor in math and science at Sterling High.
- Florence L. Lykes, also of Sterling, taught social studies. Lila Lomax Sewell was a piano teacher and the first African American school supervisor.
- Mary Moone Calhoun was a teacher at Union Elementary School (now West End School).
- Harriet Elizabeth Williams graduated from Sterling and became the first African American woman from Greenville County to earn a master’s degree in mathematics (Atlanta University).
- Reverend Daniel M. Minus founded Sterling High School.
- Elias B. Holloway served as the principal of Union Elementary School. Holloway was the first black mail carrier and later wrote for The Greenville News.
- J. Pickens “Pick” Chappell held positions as a trustee of Sterling High School and of Workingman’s Savings & Loan, an African American community bank.
- William R. Sewell, was Greenville's first African American licensed building contractor. He constructed Sterling High School and S. C. Franks Funeral Home.
- Emma Clark owned and operated Broadway Beauty Shop, one of the first black parlors in Greenville.
- Dr. Oswald M. Thompson earned his Dental Surgery Degree in 1905 and served as one of Greenville’s earliest black dentists.
- Cora Kilgore Chapman was Greenville’s first African American registered nurse and went on to become the first African American superintendent of Greenville Hospital.
- Lida Logan Williams was a registered nurse as well.
Design and landscape
The site of Richland Cemetery has not been significantly altered since its creation; visually nor physically. Richland Cemetery's grave markers reflect the styles and craftsmanship of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Century funerary designs and burial art. Size and ornamentation vary dramatically throughout the cemetery reflecting the diverse socio-economic status of the community and also the predominant trends in period burial art.
Richland Cemetery's design and landscape are very different from the large, formal parks popularized by rural communities, but rather reflect characteristics unique to African American burial grounds. Modest stone boundaries and markers throughout family plots are typical of this era, while elaborate gravemarkers are the exception, as most families of the deceased could not afford expensive monuments. Most of the extant historic markers are of the tablet or flush variety.
The natural landscape is sparse, but existing features are the result of deliberate plantings. The choice and arrangement of landscaping further reflect nineteenth-century vernacular cemetery design. Mature hemlock, cedar, and magnolia trees mark some of the cemetery’s oldest plots. Cedars, magnolias, and oaks are frequently planted in South Carolina cemeteries for their aesthetic and symbolic (eternal life) traits. Yucca plants and cacti are prominent throughout the cemetery reflecting the belief in some traditional African American cultures that such plants inhibited the movement of spirits.
Richland is an excellent example of a vernacular cemetery with Victorian influence. Transcendentalism and sentimentality in the latter half of the nineteenth century were expressed through symbolic cemetery art. The funerary design represented themes of a life cut short and resurrection. Richland Cemetery includes monuments such as tree trunks that convey those ideas. Notable makers include decorative headstones, Christian crosses, obelisks and other monoliths. Most significant, however, are the stone ornamentation and artifacts that uniquely reflect African American burial customs. Bakongo slaves brought with them from West Africa traditional burial practices still evident in South Carolina cemeteries. Several gravemarkers in Richland feature items associated with water, reflecting the Bakongo belief that deceased spirits traveled through a watery world on their way to the afterlife. Seashells and vases are incorporated into the design of many of the grave markers.
THANK YOU TO OUR Richland MEMBERS
Minor and Hal Shaw
Allen Temple AME Church
Fannie Boston | Mary Ann Chapman-Cooper | Robert Duckett, Sr. | Lillian Flemming | Thelma Williams
Ivory Kennedy | Nannie Lloyd | Deborah Sue Smith | James Sullivan | Charlotte Walker