Daughters of Zion Cemetery

The Daughters of Zion Cemetery served as the burial place for many prominent African-American residents of Charlottesville in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One such figure was Benjamin Tonsler (1854-1917), a pioneer African-American educator for whom Tonsler Park in Charlottesville is named. Tonsler was a former slave who attended the Hampton Institute and returned to Charlottesville to become a teacher and then principal for almost thirty years at Jefferson Graded School. He took personal risks in order to help many African-American students gain an education beyond the eighth grade during segregation, teaching advanced texts after school. Tonsler was also a friend of Booker T. Washington and played an important role in Charlottesville’s civil rights movement. He is buried in the Daughters of Zion Cemetery next to his wife, Fannie Gildersleeve Tonsler (1859-1937).