Between 1865 and 1975, African-Americans in the town of Wilson buried their dead in at least eight cemeteries — two in the area of present-day Cemetery Street and six along what is now Lane Street. From 1895 to about 1925, five of the cemeteries operated simultaneously. They often were referred to collectively and interchangeably as “the colored cemetery.” Similarly, the three cemeteries on the eastern end of Lane Street are colloquially known collectively as “Rountree cemetery,” though Rountree is but one of the three. I’ve created this timeline to better understand the arcs of their usage, which, at this point, are baffling.
1870 — Washington Suggs purchased a lot adjacent to “the grave yard lot” and the African church. Suggs’ land was south of downtown between the railroad and what is now Pender Street. [Was this an African-American cemetery? If so, when was it established? If not, where were mid-nineteenth century black folk buried? It seems to have been located in the same general area as the later Oakdale cemetery.]
1895 — Per the 4 July Wilson Daily Times, the county commissioners took up the question of a “suitable burying ground for the colored people.” [Was there none? Or was it that the old one had been “unsuitable”?]
1897-1899 — The Funeral Register of Wootten and Stevens, Undertakers of Wilson, North Carolina, November 18, 1896-June 27, included burials of African-Americans, dozens of whom were interred in Oakdale (in one instance, called Oakwood) and generically labeled “colored” cemeteries, as well many rural graveyards.
1897 — Trustees of Rountree Missionary Baptist Church bought one acre of land “beginning at a stake on the path leading from the Plank road to the Stantonsburg road where a small branch crosses said path.” [This appears to be the half of Rountree cemetery that lies on the northwest-side of present-day Lane Street. The widening of the street for paving in the 1990s reduced the size of this lot.]
1897 — As reported in the 1 October 1897 issue of Wilson Daily Times, the Town of Wilson “paid on the account of Oakdale Cemetery 49.20.”
1898 — Rev. Owen L.W. Smith purchased from the Town of Wilson, in the person of Mayor John F. Bruton, lot 7, F Street, Section North, of Oakdale Cemetery (col’d). [This is the only evidence I have found of a formal layout for Oakdale.]
1900 — On October 8, Mount Hebron Lodge No. 42, Prince Hall Masons, purchased a lot from Cain and Margaret Artis near the Colored Graded School, Charley Battle, Cain Artis and Daniel Vick. [This is the Masonic cemetery. I was initially confused by the reference to the school, but a contemporaneous topographic map shows that Lane Street once extended parallel to Nash Street, across then-open fields, to meet Stantonsburg Street [now Pender] at the approximate location (and in the path of) today’s Black Creek Road. ]
1900 — Hannibal Lodge #1552, Order of Odd Fellows, purchased a lot on what is now Lane Street. Tax records list no deed reference for the purchase.
1904 — The topographic map of Wilson shows empty spaces at the locations of Oakdale, the Masonic and Rountree cemeteries.
1906 — Trustees of Rountree Missionary Baptist Church bought one acre of land bordering a canal [Sandy Creek.]
1908 — The Wilson city directory listed Oaklawn cemetery (colored) on Cemetery Road near the Atlantic Coast Line Railway, Berry Williams, keeper.
1908 — T.M. Fowler’s bird’s-eye map of Wilson shows only a blank expanse of ground above and below Cemetery Street.
1911 — On December 12, the Daily Times reported two commissioners had been appointed to investigate complaints about drainage problems at the colored cemetery. [This would have been Oakdale/Oaklawn.]
1912 — The Wilson city directory listed Oaklawn cemetery (colored) on Cemetery Road near the Atlantic Coast Line Railway, Blount Moore, keeper.
1913 — The town of Wilson purchased 7.84 acres from Samuel and Annie Vick adjacent to the “colored Odd Fellows cemetery track.” [Presumably, after less than 20 years, Oakdale/Oaklawn was not only experiencing serious drainage issues, it also was crowded and becoming hemmed in by residential expansion.]
1916 — The Wilson city directory listed Oaklawn cemetery (colored) on Cemetery Road near the Atlantic Coast Line Railway.
1922 — The Wilson city directory listed Oaklawn cemetery (colored) on Cemetery Road near the Atlantic Coast Line Railway.
1923 — The plat map of D.C. Suggs‘ property shows a blank area labeled “colored cemetery.”
1924 — Per 1940 news article, the last burial in the Cemetery Street cemetery took place in this year.
1925 — The Wilson city directory listed Oaklawn cemetery (colored) on Cemetery Road near the Atlantic Coast Line Railway. The Business Directory section lists only Maplewood under the “Cemeteries” heading.
1925 — A soil survey of Wilson County shows the Masonic cemetery and a combined Odd Fellows/Vick cemetery, but not Oakdale.
1925 — Per an article published in the Daily Times on February 10, Samuel H. Vick requested that city board of aldermen provide an awning for the colored cemetery [likely, Vick] and repair roads leading to it. An alderman noted that the “old cemetery” [Oakdale] was on valuable land.
1925 — Per notice published in the Daily Times on December 2, a trustee offered for sale a lot owned by Nathan Hines south of Suggs Street “beginning at a corner near a ditch on the South East corner of the colored cemetery on Sugg Street.” [Suggs Street runs parallel to and a block north of Cemetery Street.]
1927 — Per notice published in the Daily Times on July 16, a trustee offered for sale six acres owned by D.C. Suggs and wife, north of Contentnea Street [Cemetery Street, see below] and adjoining the Calvin Blount land on the west, John Ratley and S.H. Vick on the east, and the colored cemetery and A.S. Woodard on the north.
1928 — Oaklawn is no longer listed in the Wilson city directory, and no “colored” cemetery is listed under the heading in the Business Directory section.
1930 — Oaklawn is not listed in the Wilson city directory, and no “colored” cemetery is listed under the heading in the Business Directory section.
1932 — In a notice of sale published on March 31 in the Daily Times, a lot is described as beginning at the corner of S.H. Vick and Dollison Powell‘s land on “the colored Masonic Cemetery road.” [
1937 — Per letter and article published on September 24 and 30 by the Daily Times, Camillus L. Darden and others requested paving of the road leading to the “negro cemetery.” [This is most likely a reference to Vick cemetery.]
1940 — On August 30, the city manager published in the Daily Times a notice of removal of graves from the abandoned cemetery on Cemetery Street, in which there had been no burials in 16 years, to “the new cemetery for the colored race, situated near the Town of Wilson, N.C., and known as Resthaven cemetery.”
1941 — On November 6, the Daily Times published a brief article on the removal of graves from the old Negro cemetery [Oakdale] to Rest Haven cemetery.
1941 — Cemetery Street had been called Contentnea as far back as 1922 (see above), but the change apparently was not made official until graves were moved from Oakdale to Rest Haven. The change did not take; Cemetery Street was so-called in both the 1941 and 1947 city directories and still is today.)
Wilson Daily Times, 7 November 1941.
1949 — On November 7, the Daily Times reported a dispute between Harry Howell and Carl Ward, who each purchased the same plot in the colored cemetery in 1934. Howell had recently requested that the cemetery commission remove Ward’s wife from the lot and place her body in another. [This dispute likely involved Vick cemetery, but maybe Rest Haven.]
1953 — On January 8, the Daily Times reported that farmer J.J. Skinner found a stolen safe “at the old colored cemetery just outside Wilson.” Skinner, who lived nearby, had cut through the cemetery on the way to his fields. [This was likely Rountree/Odd Fellows/Vick cemeteries.]
1958 — On February 10, the Daily Times reported a stolen truck abandoned on a rural road “near the old Colored cemetery one mile east of Wilson.” [This, too, was likely Rountree/Odd Fellows/Vick.]
1967 — On June 10, the Daily Times ran a photograph of dumping at “Rountree cemetery.”
1968 — On 3 March, the Daily Times ran a notice seeking volunteers for a clean-up at Rountree cemetery.
1983 — Per the Daily Times on 19 May 1996, the Cemetery Commission “heard” the city owned Vick in this year and spent $10,000 on a partial clean-up.
1989 — On 18 February, the Daily Times ran a full-length feature article on Ben Mincey‘s attempts to maintain Odd Fellows cemetery.
1990-1991 — The city cleared Vick cemetery with a bush hog and began public discussions about clean-up and maintenance.
2015 — Wilson County Genealogical Society published Wilson County Cemeteries, Vol. V: The Two City-Owned African-American Cemeteries, containing alphabetical listings of 11,472 burials in Rest Haven cemetery and 650 burials in “Rountree-Vick” cemetery. The latter were largely derived from death certificates issued in the 1940s to 1960s.
2020 — In response to Public Records Law request, the city of Wilson confirms that it cannot produce any record of the identities of those whose grave markers it removed from Vick cemetery or provide any documentation of the decision to destroy those markers.