Sometime after the Civil War, Levi Rinker of Mt. Jackson donated a plot of land to that town’s African American community to serve as their cemetery. Later, an additional lot owned by Amanda Thorpe was also deeded to the cemetery.
This separate land was needed since society expected the races to remain separate even after death. The cemetery surrounding the Union Church in Mt. Jackson was in operation from the early 19th century. However, it did not accept black corpses. So an African American graveyard had to be formed.
The cemetery’s location on the outskirts of town, near the railroad track, in a spot away from the main throughway and public view contrasted sharply with the Union Cemetery which is in the center of town adjacent to the Valley Pike and other main roads. However, placement was not unusual since most other black cemeteries are located in similarly secluded spots.
Evidence indicates that some of this property was already in use as a black cemetery prior to the Civil War. In 1862 a Union Infantry officer noted the cemetery was well established and contained “numerous graves.” Despite its use, the land remained in the hands white individuals since African Americans were offered little legal protection and would not have been able to form the association needed to own and manage the cemetery.
For over 150 years after its founding, the Mt. Jackson Colored Cemetery served the needs of the local African American community. During the time it was in operation, few records were kept detailing who was buried there. In addition, the local black community could rarely afford elaborate tombstones complete with names and other information. These factors, coupled with years of neglect starting in the late 20th century, mean many of those buried here have been lost to us.
The cemetery was revitalized in the early 21st century. Local residents, under the leadership of DeLois Wahr began to survey and repair the graveyard which had almost been lost. A new group of trustees assumed ownership and chose to maintain the historic “Mt. Jackson Colored Cemetery” name.
In 2004 the town of Mt. Jackson erected a monument on the site which includes a history of the cemetery and a list of 74 individuals buried there who have been identified.
These include many influential local African Americans who kept their community alive and thriving through the dangerous decades of the 20th century when Jim Crow reigned supreme in this area.
A complete listing of those identified individuals is available at http://www.vagenweb.org/shenandoah/cem/mtjax02.html