Lane Street Project: the Reconsecration of Vick Cemetery, part 2.

If you weren’t able to make it, or just want to relive the beauty of Saturday morning’s Reconsecration of Vick Cemetery, here’s some of what we experienced as the early clouds parted and the sun shone down.

Rev. H. Maurice Barnes, pastor of historic White Rock Presbyterian Church in Kinston, North Carolina, and historic Calvary Presbyterian Church in Wilson, presided over the service.

Father Jose Daniel Pinell is vicar of Saint Mark’s Episcopal, Wilson’s historic African-American church, and La Iglesia de la Guadalupana, with which Saint Mark’s shares space. The morning’s scripture was from the Book of Joel, chapter 2, verses 23 through 27.

23  Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication. He has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before.
24  The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

25  “I will restore to you the years the swarming locusts have eaten— the hopper, the destroyer, the cutter — my great army which I’ve sent among you.
26 You shall eat in plenty, and you shall praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall never again be put to shame.
27  You shall know that I am the Lord in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and that there is none else, and my people shall never again be put to shame.”

Bishop Ernestine McGee of Faith Temple United Holy Church offered her place on the program to Rev. Debbie Hayes of Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, whose historic cemetery is one of three Lane Street Project is working to reclaim. After Rev. Hayes’ opening prayer, Rev. Carlton Best explained the occasion.

“Good morning, Wilson, welcome to Vick Cemetery Service. My assignment today is to explain How We Got Here.  So the question that many of us have asked ourselves is ‘why are we here?’ Are we connected by family? No. Are we connected because of friendships? No. Well, we are not here because of who may be standing or sitting with us today. Our purpose is greater than that. We are here for those who can no longer stand, but lie beneath the very ground we are standing and sitting on.

“Why are we here? We are here because of our Fathers, our Mothers, our Sons, our Daughters, and our Veterans, who have cried out that their peace, their eternal rest has been disturbed. Disrespected in life, now disrespected in death. This is not how we honor our dead. But this is why we are here. To begin the process of righting a wrong.

“4,224 souls whose voices will not be silent.  The voices were loud enough that Lisa Henderson heard them and began to share with Wilson what they, the deceased, were saying. This is why we are here. Because now, if we are quiet, we will hear their voices. And their voices should call us into action.

“So when we leave this place, we will be able to answer that we are here because we have heard them. The first words out of your mouth when asked ‘why did you go there?’ Your response should be the Lord sent me here! If you are asked why you are doing this today, boldly tell them the Lord got you involved. The Lord laid this on my heart.”

Mayor Carlton L. Stevens and former United States Congressman George K. Butterfield, Jr., offered remarks.

“We shouldn’t have to be here, but the fact that we’re here is a phenomenal thing for our community,” he said, adding that we should get this right because “It is the God thing to do.”

After reciting the names of his ancestors buried in Vick Cemetery, Congressman Butterfield noted that, as steeped as he is in Wilson’s history, he had no idea there were more than 4000 graves in Vick. He issued a challenge to current city leaders: “Let’s find out what happened in 1996 with the grave markers. That’s a good beginning.”

“In the wee hours of the morning of April 22, 1928, my grandmother gave birth in a little house on East Wilson’s Elba Street. Beyond the rasp of her ragged breath, there was silence — the baby was stillborn. The little boy was gently wrapped in a cloth to await the arrival of an undertaker. C.E. Artis quickly prepared the tiny body for burial, and the following day, my father’s brother was laid to rest. Here. In this cemetery.

“He may lie here. Or perhaps there. Or underneath this monument. We will never know.

“Eight years ago, I began to curate Black Wide-Awake, a blog documenting the African-American history and families of Wilson County. As I struggled to understand why the cemeteries that hold so many of our ancestors lie in shambles, I founded Lane Street Project as a way to organize my research. In 2020, Lane Street Project moved from theory to practice, becoming a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-faith community collective dedicated to reclaiming Rountree, Odd Fellow, and Vick Cemeteries.

“In 1996, the City of Wilson removed Vick’s gravestones and leveled the cemetery’s surface. No records exist of the burials here. On behalf of Lane Street Project, I pushed for the grave-penetrating radar that revealed that more than 4224 graves lie in this cemetery.We sit atop them right now. I beg their grace.

“Many of you know the old spiritual that cries out, ‘Do Lord, do Lord, do remember me.’ We must never forget the mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, known and unknown, who sleep an unpeaceful sleep in Vick. Today’s reconsecration ceremony is the first step in restoring recognition of Vick Cemetery as a sacred space. It cannot be the last step. As descendants of these dead, we seek transparency and accountability, and demand a voice in the future of Vick Cemetery.

“My deepest thanks to everyone who has supported Lane Street Project’s fight to reclaim these cemeteries. I am especially grateful to all the faith leaders and community partners who extended willing hands to make today possible. Though we cannot change the past, together we can create a different, better future that honors our ancestors.”

Sister Faye Winstead stepped in to lead us in song, choosing  an old gospel standard, “We Will Work Till Jesus Comes.”

As we sang, faith leaders moved to the edges of the cemetery. As Rev. A. Kim Reives  intoned prayers of consecration, these men and women began to move toward the center, casting holy water and reciting their own prayers. Rev. Reives’ powerful words were adapted, under the guidance of Dr. Judy Wellington Rashid, from Catholic Online — World’s Catholic Library.

PASTOR A. KIM REIVES: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God by whose Grace more than 4,224 persons were placed in these graves. We gather today, August 5th in the year of our Lord 2023, to reconsecrate these grounds, duly named Vick Cemetery, which were deeded to the City of Wilson, North Carolina, on March 24, 1913, by the late Honorable Samuel H. Vick. We reconsecrate these sacred grounds — renewed, hallowed, blessed, sanctified, and thus rendered HOLY by means of the Holy Spirit.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: So, let us offer these prayers. God, by Whose mercy the faithful departed find rest, send Your Holy angel to watch over these graves, through Christ our Lord. O merciful God, take pity on those souls who have no particular friends and intercessors to recommend them to Thee, who, either through the negligence of those who are alive, or through length of time are forgotten by their friends and by all. Spare them, O Lord, and remember Thine own mercy when others forget to appeal to it. Let not the souls which Thou hast created be parted from thee, their Creator. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: God our Father, Your power brings us to birth, Your providence guides our lives, and by Your command we return to dust. Lord, those who die still live in Your presence, their lives change but do not end. I pray in hope for my family, relatives, and friends, and for all the dead known to You alone. In company with Christ, Who died and now lives, may they rejoice in Your kingdom, where all our tears are wiped away. Unite us together again in one family to sing Your praise forever and ever. Amen.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: Dear Lord, here lie in their last rest, the boys and girls, the men and women that worked on the land. They knew the meaning of hard work. They knew the joy and peace that is the product of labor. Now we trust they know the peace and happiness of everlasting life with You. They watched the sun rise often, winter and summer, over these hills and fields. They worked hard by its light and turned willingly to their rest at its setting. Now they walk in the light of a Sun that knows no setting. Lord, if they are still in the waiting room of heaven, in purgatory, bring them speedily to the light of Your peace and the happiness of Your presence. These men and women all their lives long labored to supply the food and drink necessary to sustain human life. Now, or soon, they enjoy in all its fullness the life that You, Lord, came down to earth to give men, and to give more abundantly. Dear Lord, bless us who labor now in the fields and hills where these dear dead have worked. Grant that we may remember them with charity and kindness, walking reverently in the ways that they have left behind them. Grant, too, that we may finally meet these men and women, these boys and girls, in the eternal mansions that You are even now preparing for us. Amen.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: O God, this hour revives in us memories of loved ones who are here no more. What happiness we shared when they walked among us! What joy, when, loving and loved, we lived our lives together! Their memory is a blessing forever. Months or years may have passed, yet we feel near to them. Our hearts yearn for them. Though the bitter grief has softened, a duller pain abides, for the place where once they stood is empty now. The links of life are broken, but the links of love and longing cannot break. Their souls are bound up with ours forever. O Lord, we thank You for allowing me to have these very special people in my life. I have been truly blessed by their presence, their words and actions, and their love. I grieve not for them, but for myself, as I truly miss them. We shared so much, and yet I feel our times together were fleeting. Help me, O God, to realize that the distance between us now is not so great and that one day, I will be reunited with them in paradise. Together, we will glorify You, Almighty Father, Your only Son, Jesus Christ, and Your Holy Spirit for all eternity. Amen.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: May God remember forever our dear ones, who have gone to their eternal rest. May they be at one with the One Who is life eternal. May the beauty of their lives shine forevermore, and may our lives always bring honor to their memory. Amen.

UNISON: Now, therefore let it be known by all and in the sight of Almighty God, that we, the people, have reconsecrated these sacred grounds — renewed, hallowed, blessed, sanctified, and thus rendered HOLY to the Glory of God and to the good of all of mankind. Amen.

After we all recited the Lord’s Prayer, Rev. Christopher Wyckoff of Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church delivered a benediction in which he reminded us that we must seek justice all across our community, not just for Vick Cemetery.

Photo and video courtesy of Jen Kehrer.


  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful service. Your work has not been in vain and is appreciated more than you can ever know.

  2. What a beautifully organized and executed service. I have goose flesh reading the inspiring words spoken by those who lead this group. Kudos to each person who helped to make this happen!

  3. Thank you for sharing the program of the dedication service. I am delighted to see the progress made in reclaiming our East Wilson heritage. Thanks to all!

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