Woodlawn Cemetery is a historic cemetery in the Benning Ridge neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The 22.5-acre cemetery contains approximately 36,000 burials, nearly all of them African Americans.
Woodlawn Cemetery was founded because of a crisis among the black burying grounds. Graceland Cemetery, founded in 1871 on the edge of the Federal City, was rapidly engulfed by residential development. By the early 1890s, the decomposition of bodies in the partially filled cemetery was polluting the nearby water supply and creating a health hazard.
The Commissioners of the District of Columbia (the city's government) pressed for the closure of Graceland to accommodate the need for housing. With Graceland on the verge of closing, a number of white citizens decided that a new burial ground, much farther from any development, was needed.
Woodlawn's incorporators consisted of five white men: Jesse E. Ergood, president; Charles C. Van Horn, secretary-treasurer; and directors Seymour W. Tullock, William Tindall, and Odell S. Smith. They formed the Woodlawn Cemetery Association, and were incorporated on January 8, 1895. Burial plots were quickly laid out, and Woodlawn Cemetery opened on May 13, 1895.
Between May 14, 1895, and October 7, 1898, nearly 6,000 sets of remains were transferred from Graceland Cemetery to several mass graves at Woodlawn Cemetery. Over the years, the closure of smaller churchyard cemeteries in the Federal City as well as some large burying grounds resulted in more mass graves. The last major transfer occurred from 1939 to 1940, when 139 full and partial sets of remains were relocated to Woodlawn. In all a dozen mass graves eventually came to exist at Woodlawn Cemetery.
The cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 20, 1996.