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: Vick Cemetery update via Zoom.

Lane Street Project invites you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Vick Cemetery Update
Time: Sep 15, 2023 06:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 843 0154 9551

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Meeting ID: 843 0154 9551

Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kdxEU5v9fW

Lane Street Project: the August 17 city council meeting.

Well, that was a disappointment.

First, before the meeting, not one of the four council members I wrote on August 11 — Bell, Creech, Johnson, and Morgan — responded with as much as an acknowledgment of receipt. Needless to say, none moved for any of the actions requested.

Second, the New South Associates presentation was rather less … robust than I expected. I did appreciate the modified recommendations, which I’ll detail once I get my hands on the actual report, but included a comprehensive cemetery management plan to ensure that future leaders know exactly what exists at the site and what has been done there.

Third, the utter lack of engagement by council, whose members asked exactly two questions. Bell wanted to know what pages the recommendations are on. Evans wanted to know what “cmbs” means (which tells me he didn’t read the report he got in April) and what thirty centimeters is in inches. Nobody else cracked their lips. To be fair, it was not until New South Associates’ representative had begun to speak that Rebecca Agner and another city employee actually trooped in to hand out copies of the updated version of the report to council members. City attorney Jim Cauley, in trying to execute some kind of flex, pointedly asked New South when they had provided the City the report, seeming to imply that it was hot off the press. New South flatly countered with a date four days prior to the meeting — Monday, August 14. (And thus Cauley violated the first rule of cross-examination — don’t ask questions you don’t know the answer to.) Once again, a city staffer got the report and sat it on it until the absolute last minute before giving it to council, turning last night’s presentation into pure performance. What was the point of bringing New South all the way from Greensboro if the city wasn’t going to give council a chance to study and develop questions? Though all seven councilmembers have had the original version since April, and this one is not radically different in content, withholding the updated report smells bad. Still, they needn’t have read the report to ask questions like, “Specifically, how does one install a fence under these conditions?” “Is digging up the parking lot a good idea?” “Should we be concerned about the graves in the public right-of-way?” “How can we mark the graves?”

Fourth — and the good part — come *clap* through *clap* Lane Street Project! Although I couldn’t watch them — Wilson shuts off cameras during public comment — kudos to the citizens who stepped to the mic to give voice to the desires of the descendant community. As Briggs Sherwood said, “We are here to claim our ancestors, to redeem our past. Hallelujah, what an opportunity!”

Lane Street Project: the unanswered emails to city officials.

I surely hope that when residents contact council members for ordinary constituent services, they get better service than this. Don’t be fooled by performative politics, folks. Watch what they do, not what they say. (If they say anything at all.)

In the minutes after the May 11 open forum on the Vick Cemetery GPR report, Mayor Carlton Stevens and Councilmember Gillettia Morgan asked if I could provide a few fast-action items prior to council’s next agenda work session on June 1. Here was my response:

After four days of silence, I wrote:

Morgan replied; the Mayor did not:

I responded with thanks and another quick-hit item.

Morgan promptly responded with the attachment enlarged below.

She provided an update of actions taken by council, noting that the land survey was complete; the surveillance cameras were in place; and New South Associates had okayed and would oversee installation of a fence. She also agreed to place a copy of the GPR report with the library and requested that I provide a copy of my presentation as well. No mention of the independent investigation. Or the reconsecration. (For the record, there is a reconsecration service planned at Vick on August 5, but it is not City-planned or -sponsored. I reached out to two local ministers who got the ball rolling.)

I was a little confused about the “survey” part and asked if a survey map had been produced already.

Morgan’s answer is ambiguous. I initially assumed that by “survey report” she meant a land survey map, but I now think she meant a final GPR survey report.

I responded with some notes about the survey flags and urged that the areas at the edges of the cemetery be scanned with GPR. I did not receive a response to this email.

Fifteen days later, I wrote to ask for confirmation that the City had not ordered the contractor to prepare a survey map. The City is not being transparent, I asserted. In keeping with the theme — no response.

I followed up after four days. Crickets.

On June 29, I emailed all seven council members, the Mayor, the city manager, and the various city officials whose fingerprints are all over decisions about Vick Cemetery. I repeated my request, first made in December 2019, for a full survey map of Vick. (Note that some people received duplicate emails. That’s because, in a shocking lapse of cybersecurity and public records protocols, several council members conduct city business using personal email addresses.) Not one person responded.

Twelve days later, I circled back to ask the Mayor and Councilmember Morgan their positions on the survey map. Neither has responded.

On July 13, I asked City Clerk Tonya West to confirm that the GPR report provided on April 18 was not the final version and to ask if the final would include updates from New South’s June 29 activity. West has not responded.

On July 23, I emailed West and city attorney Jim Cauley a public records request for documents related to Vick Cemetery. Details of the request to come. Neither West nor Cauley has acknowledged receipt of the request.


Expect more. Demand more.

We want a full survey map of the property.

We want GPR work completed at the edges of Vick and in the public right-of-way, and we want a soil penetrometer survey of any wooded areas as recommended by New South Associates.

We want engagement with the descendant community on any proposals for restoration and repair at Vick Cemetery and certainly before any decisions are made about anything, including fences and parking lots. There’s much more to talk about.

We want transparency and accountability.

Lane Street Project: “This is how we honor our dead?”

Local journalism, folks, is vital. Wilson Times continues its close coverage of Vick Cemetery with a detailed report of last week’s council meeting, focusing on the comments made by the descendant community, Lane Street Project, and our allies. Today’s paper also includes an editorial calling for the City to heed the call of citizens and work closely with them before moving forward. The piece presents a more optimistic take on the situation than my own, but adds a welcome, and weighty, voice to this conversation.

We demand a say in the future of Vick Cemetery.

Which council member will insist that the City engage with primary stakeholders before considering the City Manager’s recommendations?

Which council member will move to establish an advisory council?

Which council member will demand a full survey map?

Who will demand an independent investigation into the disappearance of Vick’s headstones?

Lane Street Project: Grant Goings speaks on Vick Cemetery at the July 20 council meeting.

A huge thank you to all who showed up for Vick Cemetery at Thursday night’s council meeting. Several people spoke during public comment, an important signifier of the depth of commitment to justice for this historic burial ground.

That said: though I was not surprised, I could not suppress my disappointment, then anger, at City Manager Grant Goings’ remarks. I’m still processing, but want to share this clip and my first thoughts.

This six-minute video begins as Goings responds to Councilmember Gillettia Morgan‘s question about the City’s plans for Vick.


Below, an excerpt from Wilson County’s GIS website. The parcels around Vick are numbered, and their owners are as set forth on county tax records. The City does not own property across the street from Vick. Rather, down toward the bend in BLNF Street, at (6), it and the Cemetery Commission own an electrical substation and a parcel slated for the expansion of Rest Haven Cemetery. Given the distance from Vick, the narrowness of the street, and the lack of sidewalks, it is difficult to imagine how a new parking lot on city-owned land, however “nice,” is a viable option.

(1) Vick Cemetery [Cemetery Trustees of the City of Wilson]; (2) Odd Fellows Cemetery [Odd Fellows Society]; (3) Rountree Cemetery [Rountree Missionary Baptist Church]; (4) Wilson Farm Properties LLC; (5) Rev. J. Gordon Wright Trust; (6) Wilson Cemetery Commission; (7) Wilson Farm Properties LLC. 

Extra special thanks to Jen Kehrer for sharing this video clip.

Lane Street Project: why we need a survey map, pt. 3.

Friday, July 14. 12:15 P.M.

Well, this didn’t take long. This is the survey flag at the rear western corner of Vick Cemetery. I looked around for an iron pin, but didn’t see one.

The westernmost section of the back border. New South Associates did not GPR-survey this strip, but the adjacent ground shows grave anomalies.

There was heavy rain in the morning, and water was still standing in the shadow of trees standing at the cemetery’s edge adjacent to the path of Piedmont Natural Gas’ pipeline.

The mosquitoes.

I don’t know what to make of this mess of pink flags. An arrow points to the old iron pipe that once marked the corner. A foot away, the recent surveyor stuck a wooden stake. Is that stake the actual corner? Or is the corner the other wooden stake three feet rear right? And why are the fence and pine saplings festooned?


Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2023.

Lane Street Project: July 20 city council meeting, public comment talking points.

Mayor Carlton Stevens recently indicated that Vick Cemetery would be on the agenda at the next city council meeting. Wilson doesn’t post agendas in advance (the most recent are for April 2023) and doesn’t post minutes at all (which is par for the general lack of transparency this government holds as a core value.)

Anyway, the next meeting is Thursday, July 20, at 7:00 P.M. on the third floor of City Hall, 112 Goldsboro Street East. (The entrance is at the side of the building.)

If you believe the City is mishandling Vick Cemetery, please let them know. As long as they can convince themselves it’s only me and Castonoble Hooks howling into the wind, they’ll keep their backs turned.

Here are the rules:

Please feel free to speak your heart and mind, but if you are interested, here are a few talking points that come to mind:

  • Transparency and accountability. To date, there have been none. Neither council, the Mayor, nor other city officials have sought to engage the descendant community and allies or have otherwise communicated the City’s intentions.
  • The fence. The fence is a non-starter right now. It is clear that graves lie across Vick’s modern property lines. Placing a fence inside the power poles (and on top of graves) is not an option. And, obviously, a fence outside the power poles is impossible, too. Also, there are better, less intrusive ways to protect Vick from dumping and car tricks.
  • The survey map. Why won’t the City order a survey map of Vick? Here’s why we need one. And once we get it, it should be filed with Wilson County Register of Deeds.
  • The graves. What are the plans for marking the graves? What is to be done about graves that lie in the current right-of-way (primarily between the power poles and the ditch)? Exhume them, DNA-test the remains, reinter in Rest Haven? Sponsor DNA testing for potential descendants interesting in trying to identify the deceased?
  • The GPR survey. (a) New South Associates should return to Vick to survey the unsurveyed areas at the edges of the cemetery. (b) Why did the City sit on the survey report until April 2023 when it was received in October 2022? Did city council avail itself of New South Associates’ offer to meet to explain the survey results? Why not? Only two council members attended the May 11 public forum about the report. Where were the other five?
  • The power poles. These poles are inside Vick Cemetery. And are standing in and among graves. How did this happen? What can be done about it? Should the power lines be re-routed? Will council initiate a cost inquiry and/or feasibility study?
  • The headstones. The City ordered Vick’s headstones removed in 1996. Where are they now? If the City doesn’t have them, what happened to them? We demand an independent investigation.
  • The law. State statue makes it unlawful to:
    (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.
    What is the City doing to insure it does not further violate this statute?
  • Funding. Is the City seeking grant funding for Vick?
  • Expertise. With whom is the City talking about how to move forward at Vick? [They certainly aren’t talking to me.] With whom is the City consulting? If no one, why not? Has the City sought the assistance of the State Archaeology Office? Is it reaching out to cities that have addressed similar situations, like Rocky Mount, Statesville, or Elizabeth City?

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, www.unitycemeterync.com, 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: even the simplest request goes unfulfilled.

Right after the May 11 public forum, the City of Wilson agreed, at my request, to deposit a copy of New South Associates’ GPR survey with Wilson County Public Library. Here’s Councilmember Gillettia Morgan‘s suggestion, sent via email attachment on May 31:

Has the City followed through with this simple request? 


Today I left at the Local History Room a bound copy of my May 11 PowerPoint slide deck and notes. When the library inquired this morning, a city official said they’d drop off a copy of the GPR report “this week.” 

While we’re here: at the May 11 forum, the Mayor promised transparency and accountability from the City concerning Vick and indicated he wanted to “work together” to address its problems. None of that is happening. The last email I received from Councilmember Morgan is dated May 31. She has not responded to any I have sent since. However, she is ahead of councilmembers Johnson, Liles, Creech, Fyle, Bell, and Evans; the Mayor; the City Manager; the Assistant City Manager; and the Communications Director, who collectively have not responded to or even acknowledged receipt of a single email. (I have spoken with the Mayor by phone concerning the August 5 Vick Cemetery reconsecration. He did not initiate the call.)

I don’t vote in Wilson, and I have to abide by the Hatch Act, but I surely hope citizens will ask hard questions of candidates about their intentions for Vick Cemetery and remember both word and deed at election time.