Wilson’s 2043 comprehensive plan.

The homepage of the website for Wilson’s 2043 Comprehensive Plan declares: “The City of Wilson is a place for innovation, ideas, and creativity. Wilson’s strengths lie in its welcoming community, arts and culture, and nationally recognized programs and infrastructure. In the coming decades, Wilson will be poised to harness growth from the Triangle and take advantage of its place in the region to continue to build a welcoming place for all.”

More: “The Comprehensive Plan is a roadmap that provides guidance on where and how a community will grow and change over a period of time. The City of Wilson uses this as a policy document to set priorities and make important land use and investment decisions. The 2043 Update will revise sections of the Wilson Growing Together: The 2030 Comprehensive Plan to reflect the changes that have occurred in the community in the past decade and to support a renewed vision for the future of the community. In some cases, issue areas will be added that are not part of the original 2030 Plan. …

“The updated Comprehensive Plan will address land use, development, transportation, public investment, and identify other community priorities. The Project Team, led by City of Wilson staff, was supported by local consultants at Clarion Associates and VHB. As part of this process, the City of Wilson gathered input from the community to guide the development of a renewed vision for Wilson.”

The image below is a detail from the Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Map. The parcels shaded blue have been designated “institutional” for future land use zoning. “Institutional” land has “uses related to community services, such as fire stations, libraries, schools, civic buildings, water treatment plants, and the like.”

I placed the upper circle over Maplewood Cemetery, which is appropriately shaded blue. What is going on in the oval though?

Here’s a close-up of Bishop LN. Forbes Street. The blue blocks on the left represent various churches colored “institutional.” The blue block at the top is B.O. Barnes Elementary School. The smaller blue blocks below it are Rountree Missionary Baptist Church and the two halves of its cemetery on B.L.N.F. Street. Strangely, though, the other five cemeteries on the street are shaded maize, “2-4 units/acre (med-density residential),” and part of Odd Fellows is green, “agricultural residential (rural residential).” Huh?

Why would these cemeteries be marked for the same future use as the neighborhoods around them? An oversight? Nefarious design?

The City is holding two more Open Houses for the public to review and provide feedback on the draft Comprehensive Plan. Ask why Vick Cemetery and Odd Fellows Cemeteries and the other L.B.N.F. cemeteries are not “institutional.”

Thanks to Jon Wesley Mullins for bringing this to my attention!

[Update: 9/18/2023 — the map has been updated, and the Masonic, Hamilton, and Rest Haven Cemeteries are now blue! Vick remains in limbo, but we appreciate this start.]

Lane Street Project: New South’s updated recommendations.

The final report New South Associates submitted to the City on August 14 contained augmented recommendations. (The originals may be seen here.) The most notable change is the addition of a recommendation that the City develop a comprehensive cemetery management plan. My thoughts in red.

Lane Street Project: the street.

I’ve talked about the narrowing of Bishop L.N. Forbes Street (formerly Lane Street) and now want to show you. It’s important that we interrogate the spaces we encounter: why does this look this way? what choices did planners have? who benefitted from the choices made? who lost?

Here’s an aerial view, per Google Maps, of the elbow of the arm that LNF Street forms between U.S. 301 and Martin L. King Parkway.

Below, I am standing at the beginning of the curve, looking toward 301, with Lane Park to the left and the undeveloped expansion portion of Rest Haven Cemetery on the right. The curbing comes to an abrupt stop here. Note the asphalt paving widths — the paver needed three passes to cover the street.

Now I’ve turned around to face the bend. The road abruptly narrows from three paving widths to two, requiring quick deceleration if you meet a car approaching the turn in the opposite direction.

There are no curbs. No gutters. Open ditches run along each side of the street. (I cannot think of another stretch of street — not highway, street — inside Wilson city limits where this is the case.) 

Let’s go to the end of the street between Rountree Cemetery and MLK Parkway. The word “Bishop” is superimposed on this map over the bridge spanning the sluggish murk of Sandy Creek. [As an aside: the gravel path entering the road below “Forbes”? It runs to a small natural gas pipeline substation that regulates the pressure and flow of gas from the pipeline that runs around Vick Cemetery. Also, you can see the power lines that start at Wilson Energy’s Substation #2 (which is located down LNF near the curve), run on poles through Vick and Rountree Cemeteries, then cut sharply south, passing over the end of the street I grew up on.]

Just past that bridge, the curb stops. It won’t resume until you round the curve at the point shown in the first photo above.

The ditches at this end are badly overgrown. Rountree Cemetery lies on both sides of the road here. In my childhood, I recall seeing a vault cover on the right side of what was then a dirt road. In late winter, daffodils bloom profusely on that side. There are graves there. LNF Street runs through the middle, then, with a slight dip in the road visible below, straight past Odd Fellows and Vick until the abrupt curve above.

So, why?

Because the graves of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick Cemeteries were too close to the road to permit the installation of a standard-width street or curbs and gutters. In 1985, after a man jogging on Lane Street found human bones exposed in a ditch, Wilson Public Works official Bill Bartlett told the Wilson Daily Times that about 1980 the city attempted to define the road and found, because of the numerous graves in the area, only a 40- to 45-foot right of way could be allowed, compared to the usual 60-foot right of way.  

After an eight-year push to pave all the City’s remaining 23 miles of dirt streets — almost all of which were in Black neighborhoods — City Manager Bruce Boyette told the Times on 26 May 1984 that all but 1.2 miles had been completed, Lane Street (which is close to a mile long east of 301) was the primary street still in need of paving. 

The street was finally paved in the late 1980s. Rumors persist in the Black community that there are graves under the pavement. We certainly know they’re in the right-of-way up the edge of the ditch. 

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2023.

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?

Lane Street Project: why we need a survey map, part 2.

Take a walk with me.

This obviously was done in one take, so a few clarifications:

  • Estimating the height of the pole does not involve “triangulation.” But it’s definitely math.
  • I meant the central monument, not “the marker.” But actually, per GIS info, the monument area is about 126′ above sea level, whereas an area that straddles the border with Wright Farm is 130′. The lowest points of Vick, both along the fence at Odd Fellows, are 116′. None of Vick lies in a flood plain, but after heavy rain, water often stands in the low areas. Aerials taken in winter months, such as that on the County’s GIS website, reveal the muddiness of this area.
  • The ground isn’t “more dense” at gravesite, but it’s been disturbed and may have a different composition than the surrounding soil. The grass is definitely more lush. (Which is actually pretty disturbing to contemplate.)
  • Siri thought I was talking to her at one point.
  • The fire ants. Wow. I sacrificed my right ankle for this clip.

Lane Street Project: kudos to Elizabeth City.

Another city doing it better than Wilson — Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Thirteen-acre Oak Grove cemetery was founded about 1886 as a burial ground for African-Americans. The City of Elizabeth City took ownership of the cemetery in 1964, and its newer sections are still open for burials.

In 2021, Elizabeth City officials agreed to help fund an archaeological survey to identify marked and unmarked graves at Old Oak Grove. The $50,800 survey was funded by a $30,480 grant from the state’s Historic Preservation Fund with the remaining $20,320 supplied by the city. [Here’s a takeaway, City of Wilson — there’s grant money out there!]

The first phase of the project included a land survey to mark and record the boundaries of the cemetery. [In other words, unlike Wilson, Elizabeth City had a survey map prepared and recorded.] Industry leaders New South Associates then performed a ground-penetrating radar survey of Old Oak Grove, finding evidence of 5,418 graves, of which 2,331 are unmarked (including some found under dirt paths in the cemetery). New South’s report recommended that Elizabeth City nominate Old Oak Grove for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Though I have no doubt the road to enlightened treatment of Old Oak Grove was a stony one to tread, Elizabeth City now understands its value as a selling point for the city. The City’s tourism website devotes a whole page to the site, touting its significance to local history as well as national events. [Looking at you, Wilson County Tourism Development Authority.]

And you, Barton College. Per Visit Elizabeth City:

“In 2021, Elizabeth City State University and the Museum of the Albemarle partnered with the NC African American Heritage Commission (NC AAHC) and the Office of State Archaeology (OSA) to teach preservation techniques focused on Elizabeth City African American cemeteries. At Old Oak Grove Cemetery, techniques and best practices were shared with current ESCU history students on how to photograph and survey the grounds. Proper cleaning methods of gravestones were demonstrated and the ECSU students and professors cleaned six historic markers. These headstones memorialized Civil War veterans who were enlisted in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) Heavy Artillery Regiment.

“Cemetery Hours of Operation: Year-round. The cemetery is maintained by the Elizabeth City Department of Parks and Recreation and is open from dawn to dusk. Street parking is available. Please be respectful of these hallowed grounds.”

There are lots of models out here for progressive public-private partnerships and community engagement around neglected and abused African-American cemeteries. The City of Wilson has not chosen one.

Photos courtesy of

Lane Street Project: an appeal for N.C.O.S.A. oversight.

In September 2020, I submitted to the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology an Archaeological Site Form/Citizen Cemetery Site Form for Vick Cemetery. Per N.C.O.S.A.’s website:

“The North Carolina Citizen Cemetery Site Form is designed to allow non-professional members of the public to submit information relating to a wide variety of cemeteries across the state. Submission of this form to the NC Office of State Archaeology (OSA) is a vital step in the historic preservation process. This information will be stored confidentially at the state and accessed by researchers and contractors, descendant communities, local governments, and agencies seeking compliance with State and Federal preservation laws. In other words, recording a cemetery for OSA may help prevent it from being damaged or destroyed.

“Once your cemetery is recorded with us it will be assigned a site number, a copy of which you will be provided for your records. If the cemetery has already been recorded, OSA will add your completed form to the cemetery’s file and list the submission as a ‘revisit.’ Updates to listed cemeteries are welcomed because they are important tools for understanding how cemeteries change over time and help descendants and landowners develop responsible management plans.”

I will soon submit an update to reflect changes in Vick’s status and our understanding of the number and location of graves therein.

On 23 June 2023, I requested in writing that the Office State Archaeology oversee activity at Vick Cemetery. Here is my letter:

I followed up on 3 July 2023 to provide preliminary information about the graves marked by New South Associates when it returned to Vick on June 29 and will continue to update N.C.O.S.A. as events unfold (or don’t.)

Like many state government departments, N.C.O.S.A. is underfunded and understaffed. I do not know its criteria for intervention. However, I sought its assistance because Vick Cemetery is endangered, and I do not trust the City of Wilson, its officials, or departments to act openly or in Vick’s best interests. Stay tuned.