Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the resignation of 11 African-American teachers in Wilson, North Carolina, in rebuke of their “high-handed” black principal and the white school superintendent who slapped one of them. In their wake, black parents pulled their children out of the public school en masse and established a private alternative in a building owned by a prominent black businessman. Financed with 25¢-a-week tuition payments and elaborate student musical performances, the Independent School operated for nearly ten years. The school boycott, sparked by African-American women standing at the very intersection of perceived powerless in the Jim Crow South, was an astonishing act of prolonged resistance that unified Wilson’s black toilers and strivers.
The school boycott is largely forgotten in Wilson, and its heroes go unsung. In their honor, today, and every April 9, I publish links to these Black Wide-Awake posts chronicling the walk-out and its aftermath. Please read and share and speak the names of Mary C. Euell and the revolutionary teachers of the Colored Graded School.
It is impossible to list every African-American cemetery in the United States. Or even every abandoned African-American cemetery. Here, however, is the start of a running list of abandoned or abused African-American cemeteries whose particular circumstances have garnered media (or my) attention, and the organizations attempting to reclaim them. It takes its inspiration from the Adams-McEachin African American Burial Grounds Network Act, which proposes a voluntary national database of historic African-American burial grounds. This legislation would also establish a National Park Service program, in coordination with state, local, private, and non-profit groups, to educate the public and provide technical assistance for community members and public and private organizations to research, survey, identify, record, and preserve burial sites and cemeteries within the Network.
Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick Cemeteries, Lane Street Project, Wilson
Helen Adele Barnes — Helen Barnes, Ruth Hart, Barbara Jones, Evangeline Reid and Marjorie Taylor were classmates and members of the brand new Girl Scout Troop 11. They were all about 12 years old in 1946.
The community delivered another successful volunteer clean-up at Odd Fellows cemetery yesterday. I’ll let folk tell you about it.
Angie Hall stands near her finds.
Working toward the back of Odd Fellows, Angie Hall noticed several water-filled depressions. After clearing away vines and debris, she and another volunteer uncovered two headstones: “Today I did a thing. I volunteered to assist the Lane Street Project clearing out the old cemetery, and I discovered a few graves once my feet fell into a hole of water. Here I stand in front of two graves. I don’t know why I wanted to know more about who they were but the feeling of joy and accomplishment I felt was amazing. And today my grandma turned 80! What a blessing to be in the presence of my ancestors on this beautiful Saturday.”
Joshua Robinson noticed that work was being done on more than one level: “Awesome experience, I am so happy to see such a project bring the community together. We were clearing tree limbs, vines, and other debris to find those lost to time, but we were also clearing the way for a better city, unity, and love!”
Julia Newton, who came to the Project from East Wilson’s Seeds of Hope community garden: “I spent some more time removing layers of wisteria roots from around the graves of Samuel and Annie Vick. It’s deeply humbling to do this work. This situation must exist in every community in the South. Thanks to everyone for their help and friendliness.”
Shaquanda King reflected on the impact of volunteering to improve her home community: “My cousin and I volunteered for the first time yesterday for the early morning. Was able to gain some knowledge and history from the overseers. It was an amazing experience for someone who was born and raised here.”
Janelle Booth Clevinger returned after helping make the January Clean-Up Kick-Off a success. She encountered one of the cemetery’s vexing problems: “Another great afternoon spent with wonderful people! The best projects are grassroots projects, filled with people who are there for the right reasons! Thought I’d found an area full of tombstones, but they turned out to be strangely shaped pieces of concrete that resemble footings of some sort. We are thinking they may have been dumped there as trash. Leave it to me to find garbage.”
Castonoble Hooks, a key member of the Lane Street Project team: “Honored to be a part from the very start because I can see the progress firsthand. The removal of wisteria has opened up parts of this sacred burial site allowing the light of the sun to shine upon and bring honor again to our ancestors. Hands-on history, excited to see children black, white, and Hispanic working with fervor. This project, like no other, attracts the best of the best — a group as diverse as the country itself.”
Dr. Frank S. Hargrave did not take a position at Tuskegee Veterans’ Hospital, but he left Wilson in 1924 nonetheless, migrating to Orange, New Jersey. Who got the job, then? Dr. Joseph H. Ward of Indianapolis, who was a Wilson native.
I met historical consultant Beth Nevarez in late February 2020, just a couple of weeks before COVID-19 shuttered the world. I followed Beth on Instagram @bethnevarezhistory and came to admire the work she does on behalf of two local institutions, the Tobacco Farm Life Museum and Ava Gardner Museum, to help them maintain their missions and keep their collections accessible in the unprecedented conditions created by a global pandemic. I was excited last fall to be able to connect Nevarez and Bill Myers, the Freeman Round House’s Executive Director, and the result is a fantastic update to the Round House museum’s website. The museum is now open with safety protocols in place, but until you’re able to get there, you can enjoy virtual tours of several of its exhibits. Please check it out here, and please consider including the Freeman Round House and African-American Museum in your giving plans. As a small institution with a unique and important local focus, it needs your support more than ever.
Adam Rosenblatt of Friends of Geer Cemetery traveled to Wilson this past Saturday to help Lane Street Project in its first public cemetery clean-up. We appreciate both his physical labor and the opportunity to form alliances and learn from F.O.G.C. as we chart a path for our cemeteries.
Please join Friends of Geer Cemetery on 23 January 2021 for the virtual grand opening of its outdoor exhibit, In Plain Sight: Reflections Past & Actions Present in Durham’s Geer Cemetery. Eventbrite link here.
In Plain Sight: Reflections Past & Actions Present in Durham’s Geer Cemetery
The Friends of Geer Cemetery are proud to introduceIn Plain Sight — an outdoor educational exhibit in Durham’s historic African American burial ground — through this Virtual Grand Opening. For far too long, the graves of this city’s African American founders have been hidden from view, their stories underappreciated. Join us to learn more about their lives and ongoing efforts to ensure respect for their memory.
In Plain Sight is a journey through the history of Durham and the cemetery itself, the result of a collaborative effort with local students, scholars, volunteers, and descendants of those laid to rest here. In this Virtual Grand Opening, you will learn about both the space and this project, hear from the Friends of Geer Cemetery about their advocacy work, and be prepared for a visit to the outdoor exhibit — on your own any time through Sunday, March 7th, or with safely distanced guided tours (visit DurhamInPlainSight.com for details).
The Virtual Grand Opening will be followed by an open Q&A session.
In Plain Sight is made possible in part by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and through generous matching donations from more than 70 supporters.