Petersburg’s cemeteries were segregated by race and religion. In 1815, the Petersburg Beneficial Society of Free Men of Color was established to support its free black members in times of sickness and in death. Beneficial Society Trustees purchased their first lot for a burial ground in 1818, and a second lot in 1840. People’s Cemetery, also known as Providence Cemetery, incorporates the second Beneficial Society lot. In 1985, People’s Cemetery was deeded to the city of Petersburg. People’s Cemetery contains over 3,000 burials.
The cemetery was originally deeded by William H. and Edith Williams. With one acre in 1840, the cemetery reached a total of 8.2 acres by 1880. It was Petersburg’s first black-owned cemetery and became the largest black cemetery in the city. The graves at People’s Memorial Cemetery include slaves, a 19th-century member of the Virginia House of Delegates, veterans of the Civil War and other wars through World War II.
The cemetery is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.