Wilson Times‘ Drew C. Wilson continues his close coverage of Lane Street Project’s important community work in this 13 February 2022 piece on last weekend’s Season II inaugural cleanup. See the original article here for fantastic photographs taken of LSP volunteers working at Odd Fellows and hear Glenn Wright’s moving reflections in the video below:
“George Ward snipped a tangle of vines and pushed away the fallen leaves around what remained of a grave to reveal an indiscernible inscription.
“Leaning over, Ward spoke to the unknown deceased occupant in the soil below his feet.
“‘I’m sorry that somebody forgot about you like that,’ Ward said tenderly. ‘I don’t know what name you are, but you are a precious soul. Whoever you are, God wrote your name down in the Lamb’s book of life.’
“The pastor of Beyond 4 Walls Ministry was among more than 60 volunteers from six denominations to work side by side Saturday as part of the Lane Street Project to help clean up and recover the Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries on Bishop L.N. Forbes Street.
“Saturday marked the start of a second year of work to clean the graveyards, once completely overgrown and covered by a thick wall of vines that shrouded the graves of some of the most prominent African American Wilsonians of yesteryear.
“‘Our life is like a vapor,’ Ward said, noting how quickly people can be forgotten.
“Ward lauded the project to recover the graveyards.
“‘It’s about dignity and respect and not forgetting your roots,’ he said.
“Lisa Y. Henderson, a prime organizer for the Lane Street Project that she’s promoted on her Black Wide Awake website, said the plan for the year is to continue clearing the invasive growth of primarily wisteria and privet while locating and preserving the headstones as they’re found.
“‘We are also trying to preserve the plants that were placed there as memorials,’ Henderson said. ‘A lot of people couldn’t afford headstones, so what you will see across the forest floor are yucca plants. This time of year, you will see daffodils that are really pretty that are now starting to bloom across the forest floor. Those would have been planted by families to mark graves, and we want to preserve those.’
“Henderson said the overall effort is to continue beating back the woods.
“Glenn Wright of Wilson said the Lane Street Project is deeper than restoring an old cemetery.
“‘It’s about us collecting and recognizing the humanity in each of us,’ Wright said.
“Jane Hawthorne came back to work around Lula J. Dew’s grave.
“‘She’s a relative of a friend of mine,’ Hawthorne said. ‘I came last year, and this area was totally covered in vines. I found this one last year, and it was a gift. It may be the only one in here whose relative I knew. For me to find this was like a lightning bolt.’
“Brittany Hamm Daniel took 8-year-old daughter Madison Richardson to see the restorative effort.
‘I think it is amazing,’ Daniel said.
“Daniel started helping Henderson organize the project last year.
“‘I think it is great that we are cleaning a historical landmark that needs to be recognized, and I appreciate all the ethnicities and diverse people coming together for this,’ Daniel said.
“Melissa Rees, volunteer community outreach co-coordinator at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, took about 20 adults and youth members Saturday.
“‘We thought this was a great cause and a great project to take on,’ Rees said. ‘With many hands make light work, and there are definitely many hands here today.’
“Volunteer Briggs Sherwood notes the cleanup is a big job and hard work.
“‘Here, it is just a massive discovery for people whose ancestors are buried here that didn’t know that they were buried here,’ Sherwood said. ‘Even Lisa herself was pretty sure her people were here. She has since found her [great-]grandmother’s stone, which was in a pile of other stones piled on top of each other on the ground.’
“U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson was also among the volunteers Saturday.
“‘When I read this yesterday in The Wilson Times, I was elated to know that good Wilson citizens are willing to come to the Odd Fellows Cemetery — I call it the Rountree Cemetery — to devote their time and energy to restoring this cemetery,’ he said. ‘This cemetery carries with it a lot of history from east Wilson. My grandmother Dinah Dunston Davis is buried somewhere in this cemetery. I have yet to be able to find the gravesite. I remember years ago when Mr. Ben Mincey, Benjamin Madison Mincey, would come to this location every Saturday morning alone to try to bring the cemetery back to life.’
“Butterfield said seeing the large group of Wilsonians ‘expending their time and energy here to join hands in restoring this cemetery is heartwarming and appreciated.’
“Portia Nicole Newman of Wilson started working on the Lane Street Project last year.
“Newman said the graveyard was a ‘forest’ before the work began.
“‘Now you can walk around and find people,’ Newman said. ‘It is always fun working out here removing a stick and coming across a new headstone.’
“Despite the work, she enjoys coming out to join in on workdays.
“‘I would say what is really cool about this work is that it belongs to everybody. These were all our families, leaders, politicians, doctors, lawyers, you name it, here in the city of Wilson, and regardless of where you were born, there is a connection to the history, and I think that is the big emotional piece,’ Newman said. ‘Every time we find a headstone, I think that is somebody’s family, that’s somebody’s aunt, that’s somebody’s uncle.’
“Newman said some elders have come by to say they had forgotten about the cemeteries.
“‘So it is really impactful to see a lot of older generations come and hear them say ‘You know, I think my aunt is out here. I just wouldn’t know where.’ This work means a lot for Wilson. It means a lot for the history of Wilson. I think people should know about it. People should participate, too.’
“Castonoble Hooks is a regular volunteer for the project.
“‘Just look around at all these young people, these old people, you see all these people out here doing the very same thing, serving a righteous cause,” he said. “This is wonderful. I know these people’s spirits are delighted to see this, to know that this is happening.’
“Hooks said there is a ‘sea change in how we treat each other in Wilson, and I think this project has a lot do with that.’
“He called it a ‘grassroots effort’ by the volunteers.
“‘It makes me know that Wilson has a heart, and its heart is healing,’ Hooks said.”