Virginia Humanities awards grant to Fluvanna Historical Society for cemetery work

Press release

A Virginia Humanities grant for $11,900 will be used to support ongoing work in Columbia and West Bottom, where archaeological surveys of two historic Black cemeteries have recently been completed.

“The final archaeological report, which we expect to receive in the next month, serves as the foundation of our work going forward in Columbia and West Bottom,” said Tricia Johnson, executive director of the Fluvanna Historical Society. “There is still so much work to be done in collaboration with local residents,” she added. “These two communities have a rich and inspirational past – and yet, that past is relatively unstudied and certainly untold.  We look forward to continuing our efforts working alongside community members to rediscover and relate the stories of the lives lived in these remarkable places.”

Future projects may include fencing the historic cemeteries of Free Hill and Oak Hill, installing markers on unmarked graves, and creating historical interpretive signage.  Decisions about what work to do, and the specifics of the projects, are in the hands of the communities themselves.  “We see our role as that of facilitator,” said Johnson. “With these archaeological reports in hand – which include maps of all of the unmarked burials that were located – we will discuss with citizens of each area the possibilities for restoring and preserving these sacred spaces. The communities themselves – based around Columbia Baptist Church and West Bottom Baptist Church – will decide which projects to undertake.”

Volunteers known as community historians are already hard at work, digging through archival records and arranging for elder interviews to take place.  “In West Bottom,” Johnson said, “Nadine Armstrong and Melissa Hill have searched funeral home records and death certificates and have identified more than 100 people buried in unmarked graves at Oak Hill Cemetery. Thanks to the efforts of Maxine Baskfield-Spears, Carolyn Tinsley, and Stephanie Baskfield, we have already conducted several elder interviews in Columbia, which are helping us better understand the findings at Free Hill Cemetery.

The SHARP grant, awarded by Virginia Humanities, was designed to help support programming in non-profit humanities organizations that have seen a reduction in income caused by the current pandemic. Funding has been provided to the Fluvanna Historical Society from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021. NEH is committed to Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP).

For more information on these projects, or to volunteer or donate to support this work, please email


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