Daughters of Zion Society

"The Daughters of Zion Society was described in the 1873 cemetery deed as a “Charitable association of colored women of Charlottesville.” The only other explicit reference to the group is in a 1907 deed, which termed it “a religious organization of the City of Charlottesville.” The secret society’s records have never been located.

Many fraternal and sororal organizations were founded during Reconstruction, including many that raised funds to provide health care, life insurance, and burials. The fact that the Daughters of Zion also owned its own meeting hall—Zion Hall, at the corner of Fourth Street NW and Commerce Street—suggests it sponsored social activities in addition to running the cemetery. Zion Hall was shared by several other African-American benevolent and fraternal societies, including the Good Samaritans and True Reformers, which all met on different days of the month. Zion Hall was therefore one of the most important hubs of social and ceremonial activity in Charlottesville’s African-American community.

Daughters of Zion Cemetery

In 1873, when the Society founded the cemetery, there was only one burial option for African Americans in Charlottesville: the  “colored” section of Oakwood Cemetery, the strictly segregated cemetery on Elliott Avenue. The Daughters of Zion Cemetery serves as the final resting place for many prominent African Americans professionals including educators (Benjamin E. Tonsler and Robert Kelsor), physician (Dr. Robert Leo Whittaker), barbers (J. Penny Fleming, Edward Watts Fleming, Compton E. Tonsler), ministers (Rev. M. T. Lewis of First Baptist and Rev. Jesse Herndon of Mt. Zion), carpenters (Jesse Cary, John Coles and James Goodloe), and merchants (Kenneth and Dorothy Murray Allen, proprietors of the Rose Hill Market). Burials do not seem to have been restricted to Daughters of Zion members.

As researcher Ted Delaney has pointed out, “ownership of or burial in a plot in the Daughters of Zion Cemetery was a pro-active statement of independence from the institutionalized segregation that pervaded all aspects of life and death.”

Restoration & Preservation

By the mid-1930s, the society members had died and it was disbanded. In the 1970s, the city of Charlottesville officially took over the property and began managing it as a public burial ground. The last burial there was in 1995. In 2015, the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery organized to restore and preserve its legacy."

Source: Ted Delaney, “Daughters of Zion Cemetery Project Final Report,” unpublished research paper, Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, University of Virginia, 8 May 2000.

2000 Ted Delaney worked alongside the University of Virginia History Department to research the abandoned Daughters of Zion Cemetery. Dr. Lynn Rainville also continued the research effort of the DOZC prior to its naming as a historic site on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. 

In 2015 the City of Charlottesville discussed the allocation of resources to the restoration and preservation of the site. After the crucial meeting April 27, 2015, individuals and community members rallied around the cause and began to take shape as Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery. Since 2015 the community has worked diligently to restore and preserve the DOZC while inviting Charlottesville citizens and UVa individuals to understand a greater history present in their city. Currently Bernadette Whitsett-Hammond, Edwina St. Rose, Jane Smith, and Steve Thompson make up the team of Preservers.