Lane Street Project: absent a plat map, a photographic analysis of the survey flags.

Today, New South Associates is scheduled to return to Vick Cemetery to do whatever it is the City has asked it to do. Per news accounts, “New South will flag unmarked graves along the cemetery’s property edges and provide a map showing which graves were marked, officials said.” Does this mean New South will perform GPR surveying in the areas along the edges of the cemetery not surveyed last year?  The City has not meaningfully engaged the descendant community since the Mayor promised transparency at the May 11 public forum, so we have no idea.

In the inexplicable absence of a plat map of the property, here are a few observations based on photos of the survey flags. First, an aerial (courtesy of showing the four power poles along the front edge of the cemetery. (I have previously referred to the three enormous steel poles, but there is a fourth wooden pole, labeled 1 below.)

These photographs were taken yesterday. In the first, the viewer is standing close to and with his back to the ditch at the far western edge of the cemetery. Wright Farm is at right; Vick Cemetery at left. Two survey flags mark the corner at the boundary of the farm and cemetery. The wooden power pole, which bears a City of Wilson tag, appears to be imbedded in the property line. The pole is tethered to a guy wire anchored in the ground. The anchor rod is inside the cemetery property line. Power poles are typically set in the ground at a depth of 10% of the overall height of the pole, plus two feet. Thus if this is a 30-foot pole, five feet of the pole is below grade, and 25 feet above. The anchor rod is attached to an anchor also set several feet below ground. To the right of the power pole is a fiberglass post marking a natural gas pipeline. This pipeline likely was laid circa 1959, when the first gas pipelines arrived in Wilson, but there is no record of a utility easement for it. We know it wraps around two sides of the cemetery.

The next photo was taken from a vantage point in the road several feet east of poles 1 and 2. Four guy wires anchor pole 2; a conifer has grown up around their anchor rods. All are well inside the boundaries of the cemetery. Note the survey flag placed several feet back from the edge of the ditch. As I’ve noted before, the “official” property line here is determined by the 60-foot public right-of-way, which is measured 30 feet in either direction from the center line of the street. No such right-of-way would have been observed during Vick Cemetery’s active period from 1913 to about 1960, and it is likely that graves extend into this space.

Consider Rest Haven and Masonic Cemeteries, which were laid out around the corner on the same street circa 1900, on land that was then outside city limits. After the City annexed the area, it needed to widen and pave Lane [now Bishop L.N. Forbes] Street. In order to achieve standard street width, curbing was laid to the very edge of the graves, resulting in dozens (if not hundreds) of graves inside the public right-of-way. See, for example:

The next photo shows a line of three survey flags marking the front edge of the property at the public right-of-way. It’s difficult to say — a survey map would be definitive — but it appears the power pole is inside the cemetery property. The steel poles are enormous. If they are, say, 60 feet tall, then eight feet of that length is underground. New South did not survey this area in its first visit to Vick.

And finally, a close-up of the bottom of pole 4, taken from the driveway into the small parking lot at Vick Cemetery, which has room for about five cars. At bottom left, we see the corner of the parking area. New South surveyed only the bumped-out area of the parking stalls and found evidence of 18 graves beneath it. The power pole is ten to fifteen feet away. In just a sliver of the little peninsula of grass between the parking lot, the pole, and the ditch, the survey found ten graves.

Many thanks to B.W. and T.S. for quick photos. Lane Street Project is a community collective. It’s going to take all of us to stay on top of what is happening at Vick Cemetery. This is a Sankofa moment if ever there were one. We don’t have to look back very far to see what needs to happen differently going forward.

Vick Cemetery’s descendant community and its allies demand transparency, accountability, and dialogue. Join us for an initial  Zoom meeting tonight to learn more.


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