Lane Street Project: well, now, look at Rocky Mount.

Wilson keeps taking L’s when it comes to preservation of historic African-American cemeteries. I’d thought the City could seize this opportunity to be a leader in honest, enlightened approaches of addressing uncomfortable historical truths, but that title has been won. I know Wilson gets a little sensitive about Rocky Mount, its progressive neighbor to the north, but facts is facts.

In the 13 February 2022 Rocky Mount Telegram (a time in which Wilson City Council was griping and wringing its hands about spending $30,000 for a GPR survey), City launches website about Unity Cemetery project”:

“People wanting to know more about Unity Cemetery and the efforts to restore and preserve the historically Black burial ground off East Grand Avenue in the eastern part of the city now have a go-to online link.

“That link,, provides the story of Unity Cemetery, with a timeline and with a collection of present-day snapshots of the location. That link also provides contact information for what is being called the Unity Cemetery Restoration and Preservation Project.

“Unity Cemetery was incorporated in 1901 and is 18 acres in size.

“As family members either died or moved away from the Rocky Mount area, the location began looking more like a forest than a burial ground, although there have been cleanup efforts in the more recent past.

“The condition of Unity Cemetery increasingly became an issue in 2020 when resident Samuel Battle kept bringing up the subject during the public input phase of City Council regular meetings.

“Resident Tarrick Pittman began organizing a group that made a community cleanup effort of Unity Cemetery a reality on Feb. 6, 2021.

“Battle and residents Steve Cederberg, Steve Pridgen and Pridgen’s wife, Tracy, also had key roles in the cleanup effort. Other cleanup days followed.

“On March 8, 2021, the City Council spent about an hour of a work session discussing Unity Cemetery and went on to approve the adoption of recommendations by then-City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and her team.

“Those recommendations included budgeting municipal funds to restore and preserve the burial ground.

“Overall, the long-range municipal capital improvement program, which extends from 2022-26, has $1.45 million in spending programmed for Unity Cemetery. [One. Point. Four. Five. Million.]

“Additionally during an Aug. 9, 2021, City Council work session, former Councilwoman Lois Watkins, as a consultant to the municipality regarding Unity Cemetery, told the council the municipality had successfully obtained extensive numbers of burial records from what was Stokes Mortuary.

“Watkins told the council she and others thought such records maybe were burned, destroyed or lost.

“The new website includes pictures of the Unity Cemetery Restoration and Preservation Project staff.

“That staff is comprised of Watkins, as project manager, Nadia Orton, who is a historian/genealogist, and Hap Turner, who is a heritage researcher.”

Please take a look at this website, folks. Explore it. It is a thing of beauty in both form and substance. Created and maintained by a municipality. Clap your hands for Rocky Mount.

Look at this!

Read the press release:

Can you imagine? I can. But I don’t believe. Not in Wilson, where city leaders won’t even spring for a survey map.

How do we change the narrative for Vick Cemetery?

One comment

  1. WOW!!! THANK YOU ROCKY MOUNT. From my teenage years of social justice involvement in the late 1960s you were leaders then too.

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