I finally had the opportunity to listen to a recording of last week’s candidate forum at Wilson County Public Library, which featured Donta Chestnut, James Johnson, Michael Bell, and Davonta Ferguson. As Rev. Bell did not speak to the Vick Cemetery issue in his interview with the Wilson Times, but did so at the forum, I offer his comments here. (And, of course, mine.)
In partial response to a question in which the candidates were asked to identify some of the issues Wilson faces and actions he would take to address them, Rev. Bell stated:
“Some of the issues we have been dealing with for the past year or so regarding cemeteries — my position is, we own it, we take care of it. If we don’t own it, then whoever owned that cemetery needs to take care of it. If we can find some way to assist them, then we will assist them. But I think we have a lot of issues that we cannot in a very meaningful way pour resources at everything. So we have to be strategic, and we put in perspective 1, 2, 3, 4, and then when we finish it, we go on to the next thing. Sometimes we want to do everything, and trying to do everything diminishes our capacity and our ability to do something that is worthwhile.”
Me: To date, Council has not proposed 1, 2, 3, or 4, or engaged in any meaningful way with the descendant community about plans for Vick. (Also, as detailed here, four years ago, the City paid nearly $5000 for a ground-penetrating radar survey of a tiny private cemetery at the corner of Kenan and Pine Streets. It is the burial ground of descendants of Benjamin Farmer, one of the earliest white settlers of what is now Wilson County. I don’t know for certain, but I’m willing to wager that the City keeps that lot mowed.)
In response to a direct question to candidates about Vick Cemetery, Rev. Bell said:
“I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Let the dead rest. Let them rest. We are creating a problem that is solvable. If it is our cemetery, the city must take care of it. But we cannot go back and put headstones. So we can do a mural. We can become as Afrocentric as we want. But we must create something that speaks to the history of what happened and the transformation and let it be historical, instead of trying to create animosity and strife about the cemetery. We must solve it, and the only way to solve it is to come together as one community. Put the mural up, and let it speak to our history. Thank you.”
- “Let the dead rest”?? Rev. Bell has no ancestors in Vick Cemetery. Those of us who do are asking hard questions about the decidedly unrestful conditions in which our families lie. We are not creating problems, we’re identifying them.
- “If it is our cemetery ….” It is — and has been since 1913.
- “We cannot go back and put headstones” — no, but we can find out what happened to them and establish standards and practices that ensure no other graves are desecrated.
- “We can do a mural. We can become as Afrocentric as we want.” Huh? Murals require walls. There are no walls at Vick Cemetery. Like others in city government, Rev. Bell myopically focuses on the aesthetics of this burial ground, rather than the damage wrought by the City’s continued failure to protect it from harm. Vick Cemetery doesn’t need an Afrocentric mural, it needs a plan for the dozens buried under the power poles and in the public right-of-way.
- “… instead of trying to create animosity and strife about the cemetery.” This is another page from the City’s preferred deflection playbook — cast those who speak inconvenient truths as pot-stirrers and instigators. We fight for the Lane Street cemeteries, not against anyone.
Stillshot from video by R. Hudson. (Thank you, A. Ricks!)