Removal of graves from abandoned cemetery.

As noted here and here, I have long been intrigued by the disappearance (in space and memory) of Wilson’s first African-American cemetery, sometimes called Oaklawn or Oakland or Oakdale. Yesterday, the mystery was solved.

In the late summer of 1940, the Wilson Daily Times for several weeks ran a “Notice of Removal of Graves from Abandoned Cemetery.”  Town Commissioners had declared Wilson’s “colored cemetery” on Cemetery Street abandoned as there had been no burials there in 16 years. The Commissioners proposed “to remove all graves to the new cemetery for the colored race situate near the Town of Wilson, N.C., and known as Resthaven Cemetery.” Interested persons had 30 days to object.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 September 1940.

Whether or not there were objections, the work of removal commenced. It seems likely, then, that the oldest headstones in Rest Haven (such as those of the Dunstons) mark graves moved from Oaklawn, rather than Rountree cemetery, as I earlier speculated.

[Of course, as I learned back in February, the Cemetery Street cemetery was never entirely forgotten, at least by people who lived in the neighborhood. Harry Harris recently shared the history of the Turkey Bowl, an informal neighborhood football game taking place on holidays. The original game, he said, was played Christmas Day 1958 at the “old Carnival Ground,” then an open field at the corner of Barnes and Stantonsburg (now Pender) Streets. In 1965, the game moved to Stephenson Street, in “the projects,” where it became “part of the fabric of local community culture.” After several years, however, the game was again moved “because the ladies who lived there at that time reminded us that we were playing on sacred ground as the projects were built upon the grounds of the old Black cemetery, hence Cemetery Street.”]

Map courtesy of



  1. I lived on Manchester St. , one block over from Suggs St (now Pender St.) from 1952-1970. As a young girl around 11 or 12 years old , I remember walking through the field of the “ cemetery”. People on foot made an open path through the large open field which had a lot of overgrown bushes . Though there were not a lot of grave stones in plain sight at that time around 1962, in that part of town everyone knew that the land used to be a cemetery. Later the public housing projects (which stands today) were built on the land for senior citizens. My grandmother stayed at 623 Suggs St. in the early 1960s until her death in 1970. While digging the flower garden in her yard and particularly after a rain , we would always find pennies. My mom informed me years later that around the early 1930s there was a man that would frequent the graveyard 3 times daily and tossed pennies at the tombstones . My mom also mentioned that during the 1930s two sisters had a house and stayed together in that field . The sisters grew all kinds of fruit trees , even a date tree.

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