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.
HISTORY OF RICHLAND CEMETERY
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.