Land

In justice to them, they should be entitled to this consideration.

I’m joining a long line of appeals to city officials to do something about conditions in and around the Negro cemetery.

On 10 February 1925, a Wilson Daily Times‘ report on proceedings at a board of aldermen’s meeting, Samuel H. Vick “brought up the matter of the colored cemetery” and requested that an awning be placed (?) and that roads into and out of the cemetery be repaired. A Mr. Grantham, chairman of the cemetery commission said it was difficult to get the cemetery into a correct shape and “lay it out” as graves had been placed “everywhere and without regard to lines or streets.” Further, some of the cemetery’s land was “worthless for the purpose, as it was in a bottom” [i.e. water-logged and prone to flooding.] Grantham also mused about the “old cemetery” — the one near Cemetery Street — “which if the graves were removed would be worth considerable money.” (The graves were in fact moved to Rest Haven in 1940.) In the end, Grantham agreed to come up with a plan and report back.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 February 1925.

Twelve years later, the roads were still a problem. On 24 September 1937, the Daily Times printed this enlightened, but unattributed, op-ed piece under the headline “City Should Pave the Road to the Negro Cemetery.” A paved road was not merely a convenience to family members paying respects. The previous winter, “when after the successive rains, the ground was so soft that it was impossible to conduct funerals in the cemetery, the negro undertakers were compelled to hold out their bodies until the spring, when the road was in a condition to move over it with vehicles and conduct the interments.” This was city property, the writer pointed out, and money from the sale of burial plots went into the city treasury, and “the colored people are taxpayers,” and justice should be done accordingly.

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Wilson Daily Times, 24 September 1937.

Camillus L. Darden followed up a week later with a letter to the newspaper described a disastrous, but apt, attempt to expose an alderman to conditions on the roads leading to the graveyard. The “main road” seems to be what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway (and was East Nash Street/N.C. Highway 264 in my childhood.) My best guess is that this road was paved in the 1940s or early ’50s, but Lane Street, onto which one makes a right turn from the main road to reach Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries, was dirt and gravel into the 1980s.

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Wilson Daily Times, 30 September 1937.

Cemetery update, no. 2: ownership.

You just have to know where to look.

After I figured out some basic navigation tricks, Wilson County’s fine GIS maps yielded quick answers to the questions of ownership of Vick, Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries. (One would think this information would be readily available to the city employees and officials from whom I requested it, but let’s keep moving forward.)

Here is the 7.84 acre Vick cemetery, deeded by Samuel H. Vick to the City of Wilson in 1913. (The deed is recorded at Deed Book 96, page 85, which is not available via the Register of Deeds’ website. I’ll get a copy when I next go home.) It is classified, appropriately, as a cemetery.

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Adjacent to the northeast is a 2.16 acre parcel owned by Odd Fellows Society since 1900. (There is no deed book reference listed.) It is classified — inappropriately, in my view — as a vacant lot belonging to a club or lodge.

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And here, sandwiched between the Odd Fellows Cemetery and Sandy Creek, is a two-acre parcel owned by Rountree Missionary Baptist Church since 1906. (Rountree’s deed is in Deed Book 76, page 97. The present-day church is the irregularly shaped building on the large lot at the northen corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and Lane Street.) This, too, incredibly, is described as a vacant lot belonging to a church.

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And to my shock, there’s also this. The rhombus across Lane Street, shown below, is part of the Rountree cemetery’s acreage. It is not my imagination that I saw graves on this side of the road when exploring as a child.

Here’s an aerial view, also from Wilson County GIS/Mapping Office. The big empty square is Vick cemetery (known popularly, and confusingly, as Rountree cemetery), which contains the remains of thousands of African Americans who died between the late 1800s and about 1965. I have no idea how many people are buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery next door, which was the burial ground of choice for much of Wilson’s black elite in the early 1900s. The city maintains the strip of this cemetery that fronts Lane Street. You can’t see it here, but a deep ditch marks the boundary between Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries. The eastern border of Rountree is Sandy Creek, a small, sluggish tributary of Hominy Swamp.

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Next step: contact Rountree Missionary Baptist Church (which will be a straightforward endeavor) and the Odd Fellows Society (which will not.) And remind the city that I’m still waiting for a response to my public records request.

Green Street lot for sale at auction.

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Wilson Daily Times, 4 January 1922.

  • Jonah Reid and wife — Wayne County native Jonah Reid was a son of Jonah Williams below. Jonah married his first cousin Magnolia Artis, daughter of Thomas and Louisa Artis Artis, on 30 August 1892 in Wayne County, North Carolina.
  • J.D. Reid — principal and banker.
  • Jonah Williams — Jonah Williams established several Primitive Baptist churches in Wayne, Wilson and Edgecombe Counties.
  • B.R. Winstead — Educator Braswell R. Winstead was a close associate of Samuel H. Vick, serving for a while as assistant postmaster. He lived at 415 East Green at the time of his death in 1926.

Seeking Wilson County’s black farmers.

In the 1870 census of Wilson County, 50 African-American men and women reported owning land. Forty-seven of the 50 reported their occupation as farming. I don’t have the statistics, but I imagine the number of black Wilson County farmers rose into the early 20th century.

Here is an excerpt from the most recent (2017) data from the United States Department of Agriculture’s farm census. (A “farm” is any place from which $1000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been produced and sold, during the census year.)  The first three columns — Farms, Black or African American Producers, Land in Farms (Acres) — are grouped under the heading “All Farms with a Black or African American Producer.” The second three columns have the same titles, but are grouped as “All Farms with a Black or African American Principal Producer.”

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I’m not entirely sure of the difference between the two groups, but one number is consistent — as of three years ago, there are only 15 black-owned farms in all of Wilson County.

I’m curious. Do you know any of these 15 farmers? Are any of the 15 working land that has been passed down from generation to generation in their family, perhaps as far back as the 19th century? Please let me know if you know!

African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

I post this information from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Leadership Forum as a public service announcement and as a reminder to myself of the possibilities for funding for futures of Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries.

Grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund are designed to advance ongoing preservation activities for historic places such as sites, museums, and landscapes representing African American cultural heritage. The fund supports work in four primary areas: Capital Projects, Organizational Capacity Building, Project Planning, and Programming and Interpretation.

Grants made from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will range from $50,000 to $150,000. In 2019, the National Trust awarded $1.6 million to 22 projects. Read more about them here. Since establishing the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund’s National Grant Program in 2017, the National Trust has invested $2.7 million in 38 diverse preservation projects across the country.

Read the answers to some of our frequently asked questions here. It will be updated as new questions come in.

Eligibility

Grant-funded projects must focus on African American cultural heritage. If applying for capacity building activities, the organization’s primary mission must be focused on African American cultural heritage.

Public agencies, 501(c)(3), and other nonprofit organizations are eligible. Applicants that have received previous National Trust financial assistance are eligible provided that all grant requirements are current.

No more than three grants will be awarded in any two-year period to a single grantee. Only one grant will be awarded per organization in any grant round. Only one type of grant will be awarded for each project phase.Grant recipients from the inaugural 2018 African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund National Grant Program are eligible to apply.

If an applicant is invited to submit a full application, the applicant will be required to become an organizational level Forum member of the National Trust to move forward with the application process. This requirement is designed to engage the applicants with the larger preservation community as they work through the project. More information on Forum can be found here, and more details will be provided if an applicant is selected to move forward in the process (see “Application Process” below).

Application Process

There is a two-step process to receive a grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund:

1. Letter of Intent 
Deadline: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 at 11:59 pm local time.

A preliminary indication of interest and capacity. All Letters of Intent must be submitted through the National Trust’s online grant application system, by the deadline, or they will not be reviewed. A link to the application system is included at the bottom of this page.

2. Application
Deadline: May 1, 2020
The Letter of Intent review period will take approximately ten weeks. All applicants will be notified of their status at the end of this initial review period. If the applicant’s Letter of Intent is accepted, a full application will be requested. Instructions on how to complete the full application will be sent only to those organizations moving forward. You will have approximately five weeks to complete and submit the full application once you receive a notice to proceed.

New this year and grant round
, National Trust staff members will engage with the prospective grantees during the full application stage, and they will offer their assigned applicant technical support and advice to ensure they are submitting competitive grant proposals. Each staff member will act as the National Trust liaison, conduct sites visits as appropriate, and help applicants craft grant proposals. This collaborative engagement will benefit our selection process and grant-making.

Grant Conditions

Grants from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund may be used to fund up to 100% of the proposed project. While matching funds are not required for this program, projects that are leveraging additional investments are strongly preferred. The following grant conditions apply:

  • If the project involves a property, the grant recipient must either own the property or have a written agreement with the property owner stating that the grantee has permission to undertake the grant-funded project.
  • Grants or any matching funds cannot be used directly or indirectly to influence a member of Congress to favor or oppose any legislation or appropriation.
  • Any documents or plans for preservation work that result from the project must conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
  • Any construction projects must conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
  • Unless prior written approval of a bid waiver is obtained from the National Trust, at least three (3) competitive bids/quotes must be obtained for any procurement of services that exceed $50,000. This provision applies only to portions of the project supported by National Trust grant funds.
  • Grant recipients must include appropriate acknowledgement of National Trust and its philanthropic partners’ financial support in all printed materials generated for the project. As part of the grant agreement, a toolkit for promoting the grant will be provided to each grantee.
  • Consultants must be approved by the National Trust before grant funds are disbursed. Board members of the application organization cannot serve as consultants unless appropriate conflict of interest procedures are followed and documented.
  • Grant recipients are required to sign a contract agreeing to the conditions of the program.
  • Within one year from the grant disbursement date, the project must be completed, and a final report and financial accounting of the expenditure of the grants must be submitted. If the project is not completed in accordance with the contract, the grant funds must be returned.
  • Applicants must agree not to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin or sexual orientation. This obligation also extends to disabled veterans, Vietnam-era veterans, and handicapped persons.
  • Additional grant conditions may be required by the National Trust’s philanthropic partners. They will be outlined in the grant contract.

Eligible Activities and Expenses

Grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund are designed to advance ongoing preservation activities for historic places representing African American cultural heritage, such as sites, museums, theaters, sports venues, churches, schools, universities, and landscapes. Grants awards may be made for activities and projects in the following categories:

Capital Projects

  • Restoration, rehabilitation, stabilization, and preservation of historic places and structures, including bricks-and-mortar construction and planning costs
  • Applicants can request up to $150,000 and can direct up to 15% of awarded grant funds for construction planning and documents

Organizational Capacity Building

  • Hiring new staff to increase the organization’s capacity (funds can be used to support salaries and benefits for grant-supported staff.) Applicants can request up to $150,000 for a two-year period 
  • Increasing current part-time staff to full-time in order to advance preservation priorities. Applicants can request up to $100,000 for a two-year period
  • Convening board, governance and nonprofit management trainings and organizational development activities such as strategic planning. Applicants can request $50,000 and can direct up to 10% for indirect support/overhead costs. 

Project Planning

  • Obtaining the services of consultants with expertise in the areas such as preservation architecture, business development, engineering and environmental studies, legal issues, fundraising and financial sustainability, organizational development, education, etc. to develop plans for implementation by organization
  • Development of viable business plans, feasibility studies, preservation plans, engineering and environmental studies, architectural plans, etc.
  • Applicants can request up to $75,000 and can direct up to 10% for indirect support/overhead costs

Programming and Interpretation

  • Sponsoring preservation conferences and workshops
  • Designing and implementing innovative preservation education, scholarship, mapping, and interpretative programs
  • Collaborating with artists, creatives, and scholars to re-imagine interpretation and programming, while advancing new approaches to storytelling and public engagement
  • Designing, producing, and marketing printed materials or other media communications
  • Applicants can request $50,000 and can direct up to 10% for indirect support/overhead costs

Up to 10% of awarded grant funds may be used for organizational overhead costs. Grants awarded for Capital Projects and Programming and Interpretation may include funding for both the planning and implementation of those projects. In the case of Capital Projects, up to 15% of awarded grant funds may be used for construction planning such as architectural and engineering services, code review, drawings, specifications, and geotechnical services.

Ineligible Activities and Expenses

  • Supplementation of existing staff or faculty salaries; volunteer reimbursements
  • Capacity building activities other than hiring new staff, increasing current staff from part-time to full-time, or board/governance development and nonprofit management training
  • Catering, entertainment, food and beverage costs
  • Costs associated with constructing new buildings or structures, including the creation of monuments and statues
  • Costs associated with creation or maintenance of archival collections (books, documents, ephemera, etc.)
  • Expenses incurred prior to the grant award date

Criteria

The National Trust, in consultation with the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund National Advisory Council, will select grant recipients by considering, among other points, the following criteria:

  • The historic significance of the property to be assisted and its association to African American cultural heritage
  • The extent to which the requested assistance will make a difference in preserving, restoring or interpreting the historic property or site, including what other funds might be leveraged by an existing award
  • The level of local support for the project, demonstrated through letters of support and information collected on the full application such as site visitation information, volunteer statistics, and other related metrics
  • The potential of the project to be a catalyst for further positive action to benefit other historic properties, neighborhoods or communities
  • The adequacy of plans and resources for future maintenance of the property or the continuation of activity for which grant support is requested
  • The ability and willingness of the applicant to carry out the proposed plans or activity within the project’s time frame if awarded
  • The amount of additional resources being brought to the project, either through additional cash investments or donated materials and services

Themes

While this is not an exhaustive list, there are several themes we are particularly interested in:

  • Activism and Protest Movements
  • Achievement and Innovation (education, science, business, politics, etc.)
  • Architecture and Black Architects
  • Arts, Culture, and Creative Expression
  • Cemeteries and Burial Grounds
  • Education (Not Rosenwald School Specific)
  • Free Black Settlements and Agricultural History
  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • Sacred Places and Churches
  • Landscapes of Slavery
  • Sports & Recreation
  • Statewide African American preservation organizations
  • Reconstruction Era Sites
  • Rosenwald Schools
  • Women’s History
  • LGBTQ History
  • Cities (addressing issues of displacement, gentrification, and affordability, and advancing solutions for historic redevelopment)

How to Apply

A Letter of Intent (LOI) must be submitted using the National Trust’s online grant application system. The LOI form will capture basic information about your organization and your project. When completing the forum, you may need the following items:

  • An IRS letter of determination (nonprofit applicants)
  • A list of major donors to your organization or project
  • Up to three photos of your site, if applicable

Application

Click here to access the Letter of Intent form. (Please note: You will be taken to the National Trust grants application system where you will need to create a user profile for your organization. This is a separate login than your National Trust login.)  If you have questions please email us.

Remembering Rountree’s dead.

My plans are still forming, but one thing I can do right now is call the names of the men and women whose headstones I found Christmas Eve morning.

  • Prince Mincey (ca. 1841-1902)

Prince Mincy Died Sept 14 1902 Aged 61 Years

Prince Mincey was the grandfather of MadisonBen” Mincey, whose efforts to clear Odd Fellows cemetery brought the plight of Rountree-Vick cemetery to the city’s attention in the late 1980s. His father, Benjamin Mincey, was an early leader of Wilson’s black fire company, the Red Hot Hose Company.

In the 1880 census of Speights Bridge township, Greene County: farmer Prince Minshew, 52; wife Susan, 35; and children Frank, 12, Henry, 11, and John, 3.

In the 1900 census of Wilson town, Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Prince Mensey, 60; wife Susan, 52; children Ben, 19, Emma, 19, and Oscar, 12; and niece Rosetta Mensey, 7.

  • Oscar Mincey

Oscar Mincy 

Oscar Mincey, son of Prince and Susan Suggs Mincey, was born about 1887. His small stone is a few feet from his father. It’s almost completely sunken, and his death date is unreadable. I have not found a death certificate for him, which suggests he died before the state required them in 1914.  Oscar’s brother Benjamin, the fireman, is presumably buried nearby, but there is no trace of his headstone.

  • Daniel Marlow (1870-1918)

Daniel Marlow Born Mar 1, 1870 Died July 5, 1918

In the 1910 census of town of Spring Hope, Mannings township, Nash County: Daniel Marlow, 42, brickmason, was one of five boarders living in the household of Anna Coppedge, 36, widower, laundress.

This tangle of vines will completely obscure this monument when it leafs out in spring.

  • Henry Tart

Henry Tart Born Apr. 11, 1886 Died May 13, 1919

Henry Tart‘s magnificent obelisk is the largest gravestone I found. Tart was the well-known proprietor of a transfer company. Read more about him here and here and here. Resting against the base of Tart’s monument was this broken marker:

Died Nov. 2, 1921, Age 51 Yrs., Gone to a brighter home, Where grief can not come.

  • Millie Uzzell

Come Ye Blessed Millie Uzzell Born 1872 Died Nov 26 1929 She is gone but not forgotten At rest

I have not been able to find additional information about Uzzell.

  • Best

This marker suggests the burial of several members of the Best family, but no individual gravestones are visible.

  • Washington Pitt

Washington Pitt Died May 11, 1917 Age 38 Years

Washington Pitt, 21, and Cometa Hill, 18, son of Solomon Hill, were married 26 December 1904 at Solomon Hill’s. Hilliard Ellis applied for the license, and Rev. Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony.

In the 1908 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pitt Washington horseshoer h Lee cor Deans

On 29 June 1910, Washington Pitt, 27, married Lula Best, 20, in Wilson. Rev. Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Ora Bunch, Walter A. Maynor and Morris Ellis.

In the 1912 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pitts Washington blacksmith h Vance nr Reid

In the 1916 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pitt Washington blacksmith h 805 E Vance

Washington Pitts died 11 May 1917 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 March 1886 in South Carolina to Wright Pitts and Amanda Wyatt; was a widower; was a horse shoer; and was buried in “Wilson.” Informant was Lucinda Pitts.

  • Louis Williams

Probably, in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Fred Owens, 32, and wife Lula, 29, and boarder Lewis Williams, 52, widower, a house carpenter.

  • Buster Ellis

Buster Ellir Was Born June 17, 1914 Died July 17, 1924

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on New Stantonsburg Road, farmer Reuben Simms, 21; grandmother Clarkie Ellis, 65, widower; aunts Cherry, 24, Jemima, 25, and Henrietta Ellis, 30; nieces Lucy, 12, and Mamie, 10; and nephew Buster, 7.

Buster Ellis died 17 July 1924 in Gardners township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 12 years old; was born in Wilson County to Lofton Harriss and Cherry Ellis; was a schoolboy; and died of “tuberculosis of hip; dislocation of hip caused by fall from bicycle.” Ruben Simms was informant.

  • Clarky Ellis

Clarky Ellies was born 1853 Died July [illegible]

Clarkie Atkinson Ellis was born enslaved.

In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Reuben Ellis, 34, farm laborer; wife Clarkey, 22; and daughter Jane Grant, 1.

In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Rubin Ellis, 54; wife Clarky, 36; and children Jane, 10, Jonah, 8, Sherard, 7, William, 6, Rubin, 5, George, 4, and Cansy, 4 months.

In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Riubin Farmer, 70; wife Clarky U., 57; children Kansas, 22, Allen, 16, Henrietta, 15, Gemima, 13, Cherry, 12, Hardy, 10, and Benjamin N., 9; and grandchildren Plumer, 16, and Henrietta, 5 months; and Jane Bynum, 66, widow.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, farmer Rheubin Ellis, 76; wife Clarkie Ellis, 72; daughters Henrietta, 23, Joemima, 22, and Cherrie Ellis, 19; and grandchildren Annie, 14, Ashley, 12, Rheubin, 11, and Lucy, 11 months. [Ashley and Reuben’s surname was Simms.]

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on New Stantonsburg Road, farmer Reuben Simms, 21; grandmother Clarkie Ellis, 65, widower; aunts Cherry, 24, Jemima, 25, and Henrietta Ellis, 30; nieces Lucy, 12, and Mamie, 10; and nephew Buster, 7.

Clarky Ellis died 9 July 1923 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 75 years old; was the widow of Rubin Ellis; had been a farmer; and had been born in Johnston County to Lewis Adkinson and Rosa Adkinson. Rubin Ellis [Jr.] was informant.

The broken pile of Ellis family headstones:

  • H.B. Taylor

This is not the grave of Rev. Halley B. Taylor. Beyond that, I cannot identify it.

  • Daisy Robins

Daisy Robins Died May 17, 1914 Age 38 Years

Daisy Robins died 17 May 1914 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 38 years old; was married; was born in Newberry, South Carolina, to Morton Pitt and Harrett Jones; and was buried in “Wilson.” Washington Pitt was informant.

The vine stretching across the base of this stone is slowly toppling it backwards.

  • Collapsed graves

They are difficult to see in photographs, but these woods are pitted with depressions made by collapsed graves, like these:

  • Broken stones

Broken headstones and foot markers, like this one near the fence bordering the cleared field, litter the forest floor.

All photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2019.

The state of Rountree, Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

The grave of Millie Uzzell (1872-1928).

This was not what I expected.

First, a recap:

  • The cemetery generally known as Rountree (after Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, though Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries are contiguous) began receiving burials of African-Americans around 1890. [UPDATE: Though it is accurate to say that this group of cemeteries is known collectively as “Rountree,” the cemetery I have been calling “Rountree” is correctly called the Vick cemetery. Corrections have been made throughout this post. See below.]
  • In 1913, Samuel Vick deeded the Vick cemetery to the city of Wilson, which commenced 80 years of neglect. (The ownership of the old Odd Fellows cemetery is unclear.) The city’s Cemetery Commission, which maintains (historically white) Maplewood and (historically black) Rest Haven cemeteries, has only a handful of records of Rountree or Vick burials, per response to my Public Records Law request. (Sam Vick himself, by the way, is buried here, but his grave is either unmarked or, more likely, the stone has been lost — as have those of a dozen other Vicks I would expect to have been interred here.)
  • The cemetery was active into the early 1960s, but abandoned soon after. There were public appeals for help with maintenance as early as 1967.
  • By the mid-1970s, the entire cemetery was overgrown.
  • Sporadically, private citizens attempted to clear the grounds, including Ben Mincey, who was determined to honor his parents’ burial sites.
  • In late 1994, Wilson City Council awarded a contract to PLT Construction Company to “restore” the cemetery. In a 29 August 1995 Wilson Daily Times article, city manager Ed Wyatt stated that Rountree Cemetery contained approximately 200 marked graves and 75-100 “intact, legible” headstones. PLT would survey and record the locations of gravesites prior to clearing and grading the cemetery site, and the headstones would be stored by the city’s public works division. (The city would then erect a single monument to memorialize Rountree’s dead.) I repeat: in 1995, the city leveled a public cemetery and covered the graves of many hundreds, and more likely some thousands, of its citizens. I assume council ran this action by the city’s attorney, but it certainly seems to fall afoul of (current) Article 22 of North Carolina Laws and Statutes Regarding Cemeteries:

§ 14-149. Desecrating, plowing over or covering up graves; desecrating human remains.

(a) It is a Class I felony, without authorization of law or the consent of the surviving spouse or next of kin of the deceased, to knowingly and willfully:

(1) Open, disturb, destroy, remove, vandalize or desecrate any casket or other repository of any human remains, by any means including plowing under, tearing up, covering over or otherwise obliterating or removing any grave or any portion thereof.

(2) Take away, disturb, vandalize, destroy, tamper with, or deface any tombstone, headstone, monument, grave marker, grave ornamentation, or grave artifacts erected or placed within any cemetery to designate the place where human remains are interred or to preserve and perpetuate the memory and the name of any person. This subdivision shall not apply to the ordinary maintenance and care of a cemetery.

  • In October and November 2019, I sent letters to several city officers and department heads (and PLT), requesting a copy of the survey and any records related to the removal and storage of the headstones. Only the city clerk responded — to provide copies of council minutes from the early 1990s. To date, I do not know if the survey was ever done or if copies of it exist. Without any record of the locations of graves, or the names on the surviving headstones, the city has essentially created a potter’s field.

This brings us to late last week.

Through a reliable back-channel source, I learned that after several years the Public Works Department sent letters to next-of-kin (where it could determine them) and published a notice in the Daily Times requesting family members to retrieve their kin’s headstones by a certain date. A few people responded. The remaining headstones were destroyed. (See Article 22, Section 14-149(a)(2), above.)

This morning, I drove over to Vick cemetery to look around and contemplate my next move.

This is what the cleared acreage looks like. Again, keep in mind that there are graves beneath this bland expanse:

Here’s what the remaining graves look like. This little section is subject to some heavy-handed upkeep that results in fewer and fewer standing stones with my every visit. The two large monuments in the middle distance mark the graves of Dave and Della Hines Barnes, the (step)father and mother of Walter Hines, William Hines and Dr. B.O. Barnes.

I walked along the edge of this cleared area, looking for a small headstone I’d noticed once before. The floor of the woods here is a thicket of greenbriers and wild blackberry and saplings and springy vines and is nearly impassable in summer. Without so much as a hand pruner, even with winter’s bare branches, I had to fight my way in.

I found it: Prince Mincy Died Sept 14 1902 Aged 61 years. And nearby: Oscar Mincey. The irony. For all that Ben Mincey did to keep these cemeteries clear to honor his forebears, they’re still lying in the woods.

A minute for the lay of the land:

(A) The grassy area is the seven-acre parcel the city cleared and graded in 1995. The dotted line marks a chain-link fence. (B) The small area in which several headstones stand in bare earth. It is regularly scraped of all plant growth and the trash that people continually dump there. (C) Thickly wooded area east of (B). The short white line marks a ditch between (B) and this section. (D) Another thickly wooded section south and behind (B).

I continued along the edge of the woods, peering into the brush. As I stood on the lip of the ditch that marks the clear area’s eastern boundary, I was startled to spot the pale gray of an obelisk monument looming about 50 feet away. I crossed the ditch and plunged into (C), briers snatching at my socks and twigs catching my high bun. Suffice to say, Millie Uzzell and Daniel Marlow‘s stones are not the only ones I found, but that’s another post.

I clawed my way back out and entered (D) near its western edge. More headstones, including a stately marker over Henry Tart‘s grave.

What was going on here? If the city cleared Vick’s graves in order to create a perpetually maintained memorial, why were all these headstones still standing in the woods? While drafting this post, I realized that (D), site of the Tart and Mincey graves, is likely the old Odd Fellows cemetery, which the city expressly disavowed responsibility for in the late 1980s. The Odd Fellows lodge has been defunct for decades, and no one has shown this cemetery love since Ben Mincey.

What about (C), then? The headstones and collapsed graves that dot this section attest to the density of burials here. This is logically part of the former Rountree cemetery, for which the city has acknowledged responsibility. [Update: on 1 March 1990, city council denied ownership of Rountree cemetery.]

I confirm that I’m feeling pretty reactive right now, but here are my initial thoughts on next steps for the reclamation of this important African-American burial ground, reaffirmation of respect for our dead, and restoration of common decency:

  • If this account contains inaccuracies, I welcome correction by any authoritative source.
  • I restate my request for a copy of the survey prepared by PLT when Vick cemetery was cleared. A copy, if not the original, of this survey should be shared with Wilson Cemetery Commission and made available to descendants, genealogists, or other researchers as requested.
  • As, through the city’s actions, the locations of the graves in (A) have been obliterated, the city should map (A) and (B) with ground-penetrating radar and make the results available to the public.
  • If (C) is part of Vick cemetery, it is the city’s responsibility to maintain it, and it should do so immediately. The city should also survey and catalog the cemetery’s headstone, leave them in situ, and utilize ground-penetrating radar to determine the locations of additional graves.
  • If, as it appears, the city has no legal responsibility for (D) the Odd Fellows cemetery, I implore community groups to intervene to clean it up, survey it, and create a record of the identifiable graves remaining there.

UPDATE, 12/30/2019: In reviewing city council minutes from 1 March 1990, I found this: “The Mayor again recognized Mr. Charles Hines. Mr. Hines asked whether the Rountree Cemetery located on Lane Street belonged to the City. Council indicated that it did not, but the Vick Cemetery next to it did.” I am seeking clarification from city officials, but if this is the case, (1) the cemetery I have referred to as “Rountree-Vick” or “Rountree” is in fact the Vick cemetery and (2) clean up of the graves in (C) will likely require community effort. I will edit my posts to clarify the name of the cemetery.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2019, except aerial image, courtesy of Google Maps.

A rare opportunity to rent.

In 1881, Rufus Wright Edmundson ran an ad in the Wilson Advance for the lease of a house on a seven-acre lot on the east corner of Vance and Pender Streets. Wilson’s segregated residential patterns had not yet set, and Edmundson was able to extol the virtues of the parcel to white potential renters. East Wilson’s rapid development is hinted at in the notice — “all nearly new as premises were in original forest seven years ago.” Soon, Vance Street would become the southern edge of white settlement in East Wilson, and Edmundson’s property would be developed for the town’s newly emerging African-American middle class.

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Wilson Advance, 16 December 1881.

Barbara Jones’ daughter Bethany Jones.

In January 1828, Barbara Jones of Wayne County “in consideration of the natural love and affection which I do bear towards my daughter” transferred to Bethany Jones 100 acres in Nash County bounded by the lands of Jethro Harrison on the north and east, Cuzzy [Keziah] Williamson on the south, and John Grice on the west (minus two acres sold to Mary Hobbs).

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Deed book 12, page 190, Nash County Register of Deeds Office, Nashville, N.C.

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I have long identified Bethana Jones as a the matriarch of a large free family of color rooted in what is now southwestern Wilson County. However, if this is the same Bethana Jones, this astounding document advances the Jones family genealogy back a generation to Bethana Jones’ mother, Barbara Jones.

The evidence is limited, but suggestive. The time period is correct. Most critically, the named neighbors place Barbara and Bethana Jones’ land in Old Field township in the neighborhood in which Bethana Jones was known to live. Jethro Harrison’s son and grandson were among the men and women who purchased items from Bethana Jones’ 1852 estate sale. Keziah Williamson was likely a close relative of Isaac Williamson, who had a daughter named Keziah and also showed up at Jones’ estate sale. (It seems less likely that this was a reference to Kesiah Williamson, wife of Thomas Williamson, as ownership of property in a married woman’s own name during her husband’s lifetime would have been unusual.)

Barbary Jones appears in a 1782 tax list of Nash County, but no census records, which was not unusual for free women of color. The earliest certain reference to Bethany Jones (other than this deed) is in the 1830 census of Eatmon’s district, Nash County, North Carolina, in which Bethany Jones is head of a household of free people of color that included three males under age 10; one aged 10-23; and one aged 24-35; one female under 10; one aged 10-23; and two aged 36-54. (Were the latter two Bethana and her mother Barbara Jones?)