N.A.A.C.P. calls for removal of Confederate monument.

We’ve examined the Confederate monument that stands on front of the Wilson County Courthouse here and here. Recently, Wilson’s N.A.A.C.P. called upon Wilson County Commissioners to remove the 1926 monument, which once featured segregated water fountains.

Wilson Times, 14 November 2023.

We celebrate Dr. Joseph H. Ward this Veterans Day!

This past September, the Department of Veterans Affairs posthumously awarded an Exceptional Service Award to Wilson native Dr. Joseph H. Ward for his leadership of the V.A.’s first all-Black hospital “during an era of severe discrimination and racial hostility.”

To learn more about Dr. Ward and Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital, see this recent NPR piece, A Century Ago, Black WWI Vets Demanded Better Care. They Got Their Own Hospital, and this National Archives blogpost, The Trials and Triumphs of Dr. Joseph H. Ward.

Dr. Joseph H. Ward stands at center in the first row in the photograph taken of the V.A. Hospital’s ground-breaking all-Black medical staff.


Standing in the Gap for the Ancestors: Sankofa and the Why of Black Wide-Awake.

The text of a talk I delivered 19 October 2023 at Barton College, Wilson, North Carolina.


My thanks to Dr. Lydia Walker for the invitation to speak tonight. A special shout-out to the School of Arts and Humanities, as well. I have an undergraduate degree in English and a graduate degree in History. STEM is important, but God bless those intrepid humanities majors! And, of course, thank you to the BB&T endowment that supports the Heritage Lecture series and to Wilson County Historical Association.

I’m a big science fiction/fantasy fan, and I’m currently working through R. Scott Bakker’s Aspect-Emperor quartet. As I was finalizing my remarks for tonight, a bit of dialogue from the second book of the series jumped out at me – “You need to glimpse more to know that you see less.” You need to glimpse more to know that you see less. Less, that is, than there is to see.

I’m intrigued by palimpsests as a metaphor. There is the surface of things, that which we see, the plane in which we exist. For example, the 500 block of East Nash Street as I drove its length today. But below this plane, there are layer upon layer of 500 blocks, each as fully actualized in its own time as this one is in ours. That’s what Black Wide Awake is about. Understanding that what we see is not all there is or was, and peeling back those layers to recover what is missing.

I have not lived in Wilson for more than two-thirds of my life. Nonetheless, wherever I am, however far away I go — Wilson remains my home, and each passing year both reminds me and reveals to me this fundamental truth. For eighteen years, I walked the same dusty streets that my father walked, along paths trod by my grandfather, my aunts and uncles and cousins. My life crossed theirs, in space, if not time, a dozen times a day. When my grandmother told me stories of her youth, I didn’t have to imagine Green Street or Five Points or Export Leaf or Cherry Hotel. I’d seen them. If I didn’t know the men and women that peopled her memories, I knew their children or grandchildren. I knew their homes.

The house on Elba Street that my grandmother grew up in and my father and his siblings were born in.

On dew-bright summer mornings — in swimsuits and flip-flops, towels slung over our heads — my cousin and I would set off for the Reid Street Community Center pool. We’d walk up Carolina Street and cut through a path to Queen Street, where her mother and my father once lived in a row of endway houses – that’s the local name for shotguns. We’d turn up Queen to Reid Street (where they also lived for a time), then turn north. At Green Street, we peered west toward the tiny cottage on Elba Street in which my grandmother had grown up and my father was born. Looking east, through frothy crepe myrtles, we gazed into the portals of Charles H. Darden High School, alma mater of nearly every adult we knew. Skirting Sam Vick Elementary, the all-black school at which two generations of my family had learned to conjugate and multiply, we exchanged our belongings for numbered safety pins and locked our toes over the edge of the pool.

My genealogical and historical research at Black Wide-Awake strengthens and preserves my link to the vast web of connections — floating deeper than memory — that roots me. With it, through it, I remember and pay homage to the Miss Edie Bells and Miz Speights and Mr. Kennys and Ma Keits, men and women who sheltered us in a cocoon spun from folk wisdom, good country sense, and a deep familiarity with the ways of white folks.

This was a liminal space – Old South fading, New South emerging. I was nurtured by the children and grandchildren of the enslaved so as to make my way among the children and grandchildren of enslavers. This, as much as anything, fueled my love of history and genealogy and stoked my quest to know whose shoulders I stand upon.

The blog Black Wide-Awake began as a repository into which I piled all the “extra” I uncovered while digging in archives and databases for my own family’s history. All the court records and photographs and newspaper clippings that did not pertain directly to my people, but captured the lives of those who created or disrupted the community in which my people lived.

My original idea was to create blogs for each of the three counties in which most of my North Carolina ancestors lived. I started with Wilson County, and I’ve never moved beyond it. Somewhere along the way, I realized that though I’m no longer in Wilson, I’ve never been more of her, and my bone-deep familiarity with these people and this place are essential to making the most of the material I uncover. Studying the pentimento that is African-American Wilson, I am able to read both the smudged original text and the layers upon layers inscribed upon it over the last 200 years. Wilson is my wheelhouse, and – to borrow a phrase from Booker T. Washington, one of the city’s most famous visitors – I have determined to cast down my buckets here.

The received history of Wilson is anchored in admiring tales of immigrant English younger sons, Mexican War soldiers, county fathers, Civil War generals, and money-minting tobacconists. Though we have been here from the beginning, dragged behind the colonizers, African Americans have largely been omitted from historical records, which inevitably has led to our erasure from both memory and place. Wilson County was built on the backs of black people, but neither we nor our works are remembered or celebrated.

Black History in general is often siloed – boxed into a single month that hyperfocuses on a small set of big names and grand feats. We all know Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman – as we absolutely should. But what of our own heroes? Our own freedom fighters? Our own revolutionaries? What great minds and deeds sprang from our own sandy soil?

For hundreds of years, the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and aphorisms. Sankofa, which means, literally, “go back and get it,” is often illustrated as a bird looking over its back.  Black Wide Awake exists to snatch back that which was forgotten. I spoke of being born in a liminal age. A dawn. But also a twilight. I grew up accustomed to squinting into half-light, and I am among the last of Wilson’s children who can see both the dim shapes of the past and describe them for the future.

In researching for the blog, I have been astonished by what I’ve uncovered. How did I not know of these people? How have the aspirations and achievements, the trials and triumphs, the resistance and the resilience of so many black people been so quickly rendered invisible? How much taller would we stand if we knew these stories? As singer and social activist Bernice Johnson Reagon has counseled, “when you are in touch with your history, you can see yourself as evidence of the success of your ancestors.”

And how much richer would our whole community be for this knowledge? As historian Andi Cumbo-Floyd assured her white audience: “You will only be enriched by connecting with the black people who built the places you love. You will find people who love these places, too, differently but just as strongly. You will find stories about your home places that help you understand and appreciate them more. You will make friends. You will understand history. You will know – first-hand and real – the way history has been unfair and unkind to people of color, and you will be better people for that.”

Let me tell you just a few stories.

In 1918, Mary C. Euell — my personal hero — and 10 other African-American teachers resigned from Wilson’s Colored Graded School after white superintendent Charles L. Coon slapped Euell. In their wake, black parents pulled their children out of the public school en masse and opened a private alternative school in a building owned by Samuel H. Vick.  Financed with 25¢-a-week tuition payments and elaborate student musical performances, the Wilson Normal & Industrial School operated for nearly ten years. 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, African-American women, go unsung.

Speaking of Sam Vick. There’s a whole school named for him, and a contested public cemetery, but who here really knows who this one-man Black Wall Street was? There is no arena of social and civic life in which Vick did not blaze trails, knock down walls, or burst through ceilings. Every day we follow paths he literally mapped across Wilson. He laid out streets; bought, rented, and sold hundreds of houses; and founded or co-founded Presbyterian churches, a hotel, a cemetery, a hospital, a school, an insurance company, a movie theatre, and a bank. He was a founding or early member of the local lodges of the Knights of Labor; the Knights of Pythias; Mount Hebron Lodge #42 of Prince Hall Masons; Hannibal Lodge #1552 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows; and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. In 1910, when Booker T. Washington scheduled a stop in Wilson during his Educational Tour of the South, Samuel and Annie Vick played host to the guest of honor, sponsoring a reception for Washington’s entourage on their East Green Street lawn.

Sam Vick rose quickly to the upper echelon of eastern North Carolina’s black power brokers, eventually becoming a close ally of future Congressman George H. White. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Vick postmaster of Wilson. Postmaster positions were highly sought after as among the few patronage jobs available in rural North Carolina, and Vick’s appointment was bitterly resented. He held the position until 1894, then was reappointed by President William McKinley in 1898. In 1903, Vick’s fight to keep the postmaster job became national news when Jeter Pritchard, the only Republican Senator from the South and a leader of the so-called Lily White movement, demanded that Teddy Roosevelt replace Vick with a white man. Roosevelt acquiesced. Even after his removal from office, Vick remained active in national politics and, when Vick Elementary was dedicated in 1936, he was alive to receive the honor.

And what of Wilson’s own Rosa Parkses? In 1943, Irene Barron and James Parker were arrested weeks apart for sitting in the white section of Wilson city buses and refusing to move to the back. The driver of Parker’s bus abandoned the route and drove straight to the police station. Parker received a suspended sentence, but Barron was hit with 60 days in jail. Were these acts of protest so close in time a mere coincidence? Or did Barron and Parker plan this assault on Jim Crow together? As a practice, the local press was frustratingly reticent about challenges to the apparatus of segregation – another way of erasing history even as it is made.

I had never heard of teenager Marie Everett until I read Charles W. McKinney’s excellent Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina. I’m not sure how it is possible that her struggle was so quickly forgotten, but the fight for justice for Everett was a small victory that sent a big message to Wilson’s Black community and likely a shudder of premonition through its white one:

On 6 October 1945, 15 year-old Everett took in a movie at downtown Wilson’s Carolina Theatre, which admitted black patrons to its balcony only. As Everett stood beside a friend near the concession stand, a cashier yelled at her to get in line. Everett responded that she was not in line and, on the way back to her seat, stuck out her tongue. The cashier grabbed Everett, slapped her, and began to choke her. Everett fought back. Somebody called the police, and Everett was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The next day in court, Everett’s charge was upgraded to simple assault. Though this misdemeanor carried a maximum thirty-day sentence and fifty-dollar fine, the judge upped Everett’s time to three months in county jail. Wilson’s tiny NAACP chapter swung into action, securing a white lawyer from Tarboro. In the meantime, Everett sat in jail four months awaiting a hearing on her appeal – long past the length of her 30-day original sentence. Wilson County assigned two prosecutors to the matter, and one opened with a statement to the jury that the case would “show the n*ggers that the war is over.” Everett was convicted anew, and this judge, astonishingly, increased her sentence from three to six months to be served — even more astonishingly — at the women’s prison in Raleigh. Hard time. Everett was a minor, though, and the prison refused to admit her.  Wilson’s NAACP jumped in again to send word to Thurgood Marshall, head of the organization’s Legal Defense Fund. Marshall engaged a black lawyer in Durham, who alerted state officials to Wilson’s shenanigans. After intervention by the Commissioner of Paroles and the Governor, Everett walked out of jail on March 18. She had missed nearly five months of her freshman year of high school.

And then there’s Dr. George K. Butterfield Sr., the dentist whose road to election to Wilson’s board of aldermen was a primer in voter suppression.

Here’s the bullet-point version of events:

  • In 1928, Dr. Butterfield was one of only 46 black registered voters in Wilson.
  • In the 1930s and ’40s, several organizations formed to support African-American political engagement, including voter registration.
  • By the early 1950s, about 500 black voters were registered, almost all of whom lived in the city’s Third Ward, a long narrow precinct that crossed Wilson east to west.
  • In early 1953, Dr. Butterfield announced his candidacy for a seat on Wilson’s Board of Aldermen, the precursor to today’s city council. He drew immediate widespread support from unionized tobacco leafhouse workers, churches, and the city’s small African-American professional class.
  • A few days before the election, ward incumbent Herbert Harriss challenged the eligibility of 185 registered voters. Of the 150 voters struck from the rolls, 147 were black.
  • On election night, Dr. Butterfield and Harriss each received 382 votes. Butterfield objected that the registrar had violated rules requiring that votes be counted at the site where ballot boxes are opened. City Attorney W.A. Lucas conceded the count was irregular, but declared the point moot, as there were tie-breaker provisions. Over Dr. Butterfield’s objections, the City Clerk placed the two candidates’ names in a hat, blindfolded a three year-old girl, and asked her to draw a name.
  • Dr. Butterfield won!
  • In 1955, the City of Wilson acted decisively to get in front of Dr. Butterfield’s re-election. First, it threw out all the registration books, ostensibly to clear the rolls of dead or otherwise ineligible voters – STOP ME IF THIS SOUNDS FAMILIAR. Citizens had one month to re-register at their ward registrar’s house on weekdays, a difficult and daunting task for factory workers and domestics working long hours across town. Next, the city expanded Ward 3 on its western end to pull in hundreds more white voters. The Wilson Daily Times stoked fears by publishing running tallies of new registrations by race.
  • Notwithstanding, on election day, 93% of all eligible black voters voted, and Dr. Butterfield won again!
  • In 1957, faced with another Butterfield campaign, the City went for the nuclear option and chucked the whole ward system for “new and fair” city-wide, at-large seats. Further, to thwart bloc voting, voters would not be able to vote for just one candidate. Rather, they had to select six candidates or their ballots would be invalidated. Jim Crow protocols prevented Dr. Butterfield from campaigning directly to white voters, and he was unable to parry when his opponents sneered at his ties to “special interest groups” like the NAACP and cast him as a candidate solely interested in advancing Black issues.
  • Unsurprisingly, Dr. Butterfield placed eighth of 16 candidates and was the sole incumbent to lose his seat.

The story didn’t end there, of course. Dr. Butterfield’s defeat coincided with the emergence of new grassroots civil rights organizing efforts to attack segregation and racism in every corner of Wilson life.

In June 1964, James Costen, the young Black pastor of Elm City’s tiny First Presbyterian Church, invited an interracial group of students from Pennsylvania and New York to paint the church. When they arrived in Elm City, Robert Jones, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, told him he could not guarantee their safety if they tried to paint the church alongside Negroes. The students packed up and went home. On the evening of July 9, Grand Dragon Jones called Rev. Costen to tell him that he had gathered about two hundred fifty Klan members from Wilson and Nash Counties who were ready to paint the church. They had forty floodlights and forty gallons of paint and would work all night. Understandably, Rev. Costen passed on the offer, and Jones accused him of “not wanting to get the church painted, but of desiring to make a racial issue by bringing in outsiders.” Jones then threatened that an “integrated brush” would not touch the walls of the church, and another attempt toward that end could get somebody killed. Elm City Mayor George Tyson called the sheriff’s office in Wilson, who contacted the governor’s office, who mobilized the state highway patrol. Authorities broke up the Klan assembly around eleven that evening. “I feel safe in saying,” Rev. Costen later told a reporter, “at this point we will refuse their help.” A few days later, two Rocky Mount men were arrested after fleeing warning shots fired as they splashed gasoline on the church steps. Order restored, painting began on July 14 with an integrated group of workers under the watch of state troopers.

And on and on. I’ve told some of the good stories, but there are so many more – stories of families and foodways and forgotten Wilson neighborhoods like Grabneck, Little Washington, Happy Hill, and Sunshine Alley. I have not shared them tonight, but there are terrible stories, too, of the cruelties of slavery, of lynchings, of racism both casual and deliberate.

I founded Black Wide-Awake in 2015. It turned 8 years old this month and as of today is 5192 posts strong. It birthed Lane Street Project, a multiethnic, multigenerational community collective devoted to the reclamation of three historic African-American cemeteries — including private Odd Fellows, where Barton students cleared brush yesterday morning during their Day of Service, and public Vick, which bears the scars of the City of Wilson’s alternating abuse and misguided attention. The removal of headstones from that cemetery and the complete erasure of its burial records are an object lesson in the critical importance of documenting Black Lives, of calling our people’s names, resurrecting their memory, and ensuring they are never again forgotten.

I have not done this work alone, and I deeply appreciate the many who have shared images and artifacts and access — that’s critical, access — to help me shout these stories. I would build this archive even if no one wanted to read it, but am profoundly grateful that so many do.

Black Wide-Awake is a mission. It’s a ministry. It’s a love letter. It’s the currency with which I repay my debt to the community that made me.

Thank you.

Lane Street Project: the New York Times on “the decay, destruction and desecration plaguing many of America’s Black cemeteries.”

Last week, The New York Times shined its powerful spotlight on three African-American cemeteries and the women fighting to save them.

“Three Black women, shocked by the condition of cemeteries in Washington, Georgia and Texas, have turned their anger into action. None have prior experience in historic preservation, landscape architecture or design. But like many others working to save Black cemeteries, they view the work as a sacred trust and payment of a debt to ancestors who led the way.

As disheartening as the details of these cemeteries are — Vick is not the only graveyard ravished by a utility company — I am encouraged by the increasing attention paid to their plights and the knowledge that Lane Street Project is not alone in its struggle. Or its dreams. “I don’t want to keep trying to save the land,” said Lisa Fager, who fights for Washington, D.C.’s Mount Zion-Female Union Band Society cemeteries, “I want to save the people and their stories.”

Lane Street Project: Bravo, Elm City!

Look at Elm City, y’all — modeling progressiveness, cooperation, and public spirit!

While Wilson is throwing stones at the messenger, Elm City’s leaders have been working with a descendant group holding title to Heritage (formerly Elm City Colored) Cemetery to seek a $93,000 federal grant for restoration of Elm City’s historic African-American burial ground.

Drew C. Wilson’s story posted yesterday at the Wilson Times online:

200 Negro newspapermen expected for the A.&T. game!

Wilson Daily Times, 30 September 1939.

The Daily Times predicted hundreds of pressmen for a match-up between A.&T. and Virginia Union at Wilson’s Municipal (later Fleming) Stadium in October 1939. White fans were expected, too, and “the grandstand will be divided, the third base line half for white spectators and the first base section of the stands for colored fans.”

Lane Street Project: the Reconsecration of Vick Cemetery, part 2.

If you weren’t able to make it, or just want to relive the beauty of Saturday morning’s Reconsecration of Vick Cemetery, here’s some of what we experienced as the early clouds parted and the sun shone down.

Rev. H. Maurice Barnes, pastor of historic White Rock Presbyterian Church in Kinston, North Carolina, and historic Calvary Presbyterian Church in Wilson, presided over the service.

Father Jose Daniel Pinell is vicar of Saint Mark’s Episcopal, Wilson’s historic African-American church, and La Iglesia de la Guadalupana, with which Saint Mark’s shares space. The morning’s scripture was from the Book of Joel, chapter 2, verses 23 through 27.

23  Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication. He has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before.
24  The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

25  “I will restore to you the years the swarming locusts have eaten— the hopper, the destroyer, the cutter — my great army which I’ve sent among you.
26 You shall eat in plenty, and you shall praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall never again be put to shame.
27  You shall know that I am the Lord in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and that there is none else, and my people shall never again be put to shame.”

Bishop Ernestine McGee of Faith Temple United Holy Church offered her place on the program to Rev. Debbie Hayes of Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, whose historic cemetery is one of three Lane Street Project is working to reclaim. After Rev. Hayes’ opening prayer, Rev. Carlton Best explained the occasion.

“Good morning, Wilson, welcome to Vick Cemetery Service. My assignment today is to explain How We Got Here.  So the question that many of us have asked ourselves is ‘why are we here?’ Are we connected by family? No. Are we connected because of friendships? No. Well, we are not here because of who may be standing or sitting with us today. Our purpose is greater than that. We are here for those who can no longer stand, but lie beneath the very ground we are standing and sitting on.

“Why are we here? We are here because of our Fathers, our Mothers, our Sons, our Daughters, and our Veterans, who have cried out that their peace, their eternal rest has been disturbed. Disrespected in life, now disrespected in death. This is not how we honor our dead. But this is why we are here. To begin the process of righting a wrong.

“4,224 souls whose voices will not be silent.  The voices were loud enough that Lisa Henderson heard them and began to share with Wilson what they, the deceased, were saying. This is why we are here. Because now, if we are quiet, we will hear their voices. And their voices should call us into action.

“So when we leave this place, we will be able to answer that we are here because we have heard them. The first words out of your mouth when asked ‘why did you go there?’ Your response should be the Lord sent me here! If you are asked why you are doing this today, boldly tell them the Lord got you involved. The Lord laid this on my heart.”

Mayor Carlton L. Stevens and former United States Congressman George K. Butterfield, Jr., offered remarks.

“We shouldn’t have to be here, but the fact that we’re here is a phenomenal thing for our community,” he said, adding that we should get this right because “It is the God thing to do.”

After reciting the names of his ancestors buried in Vick Cemetery, Congressman Butterfield noted that, as steeped as he is in Wilson’s history, he had no idea there were more than 4000 graves in Vick. He issued a challenge to current city leaders: “Let’s find out what happened in 1996 with the grave markers. That’s a good beginning.”

“In the wee hours of the morning of April 22, 1928, my grandmother gave birth in a little house on East Wilson’s Elba Street. Beyond the rasp of her ragged breath, there was silence — the baby was stillborn. The little boy was gently wrapped in a cloth to await the arrival of an undertaker. C.E. Artis quickly prepared the tiny body for burial, and the following day, my father’s brother was laid to rest. Here. In this cemetery.

“He may lie here. Or perhaps there. Or underneath this monument. We will never know.

“Eight years ago, I began to curate Black Wide-Awake, a blog documenting the African-American history and families of Wilson County. As I struggled to understand why the cemeteries that hold so many of our ancestors lie in shambles, I founded Lane Street Project as a way to organize my research. In 2020, Lane Street Project moved from theory to practice, becoming a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-faith community collective dedicated to reclaiming Rountree, Odd Fellow, and Vick Cemeteries.

“In 1996, the City of Wilson removed Vick’s gravestones and leveled the cemetery’s surface. No records exist of the burials here. On behalf of Lane Street Project, I pushed for the grave-penetrating radar that revealed that more than 4224 graves lie in this cemetery.We sit atop them right now. I beg their grace.

“Many of you know the old spiritual that cries out, ‘Do Lord, do Lord, do remember me.’ We must never forget the mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, known and unknown, who sleep an unpeaceful sleep in Vick. Today’s reconsecration ceremony is the first step in restoring recognition of Vick Cemetery as a sacred space. It cannot be the last step. As descendants of these dead, we seek transparency and accountability, and demand a voice in the future of Vick Cemetery.

“My deepest thanks to everyone who has supported Lane Street Project’s fight to reclaim these cemeteries. I am especially grateful to all the faith leaders and community partners who extended willing hands to make today possible. Though we cannot change the past, together we can create a different, better future that honors our ancestors.”

Sister Faye Winstead stepped in to lead us in song, choosing  an old gospel standard, “We Will Work Till Jesus Comes.”

As we sang, faith leaders moved to the edges of the cemetery. As Rev. A. Kim Reives  intoned prayers of consecration, these men and women began to move toward the center, casting holy water and reciting their own prayers. Rev. Reives’ powerful words were adapted, under the guidance of Dr. Judy Wellington Rashid, from Catholic Online — World’s Catholic Library.

PASTOR A. KIM REIVES: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God by whose Grace more than 4,224 persons were placed in these graves. We gather today, August 5th in the year of our Lord 2023, to reconsecrate these grounds, duly named Vick Cemetery, which were deeded to the City of Wilson, North Carolina, on March 24, 1913, by the late Honorable Samuel H. Vick. We reconsecrate these sacred grounds — renewed, hallowed, blessed, sanctified, and thus rendered HOLY by means of the Holy Spirit.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: So, let us offer these prayers. God, by Whose mercy the faithful departed find rest, send Your Holy angel to watch over these graves, through Christ our Lord. O merciful God, take pity on those souls who have no particular friends and intercessors to recommend them to Thee, who, either through the negligence of those who are alive, or through length of time are forgotten by their friends and by all. Spare them, O Lord, and remember Thine own mercy when others forget to appeal to it. Let not the souls which Thou hast created be parted from thee, their Creator. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: God our Father, Your power brings us to birth, Your providence guides our lives, and by Your command we return to dust. Lord, those who die still live in Your presence, their lives change but do not end. I pray in hope for my family, relatives, and friends, and for all the dead known to You alone. In company with Christ, Who died and now lives, may they rejoice in Your kingdom, where all our tears are wiped away. Unite us together again in one family to sing Your praise forever and ever. Amen.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: Dear Lord, here lie in their last rest, the boys and girls, the men and women that worked on the land. They knew the meaning of hard work. They knew the joy and peace that is the product of labor. Now we trust they know the peace and happiness of everlasting life with You. They watched the sun rise often, winter and summer, over these hills and fields. They worked hard by its light and turned willingly to their rest at its setting. Now they walk in the light of a Sun that knows no setting. Lord, if they are still in the waiting room of heaven, in purgatory, bring them speedily to the light of Your peace and the happiness of Your presence. These men and women all their lives long labored to supply the food and drink necessary to sustain human life. Now, or soon, they enjoy in all its fullness the life that You, Lord, came down to earth to give men, and to give more abundantly. Dear Lord, bless us who labor now in the fields and hills where these dear dead have worked. Grant that we may remember them with charity and kindness, walking reverently in the ways that they have left behind them. Grant, too, that we may finally meet these men and women, these boys and girls, in the eternal mansions that You are even now preparing for us. Amen.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: O God, this hour revives in us memories of loved ones who are here no more. What happiness we shared when they walked among us! What joy, when, loving and loved, we lived our lives together! Their memory is a blessing forever. Months or years may have passed, yet we feel near to them. Our hearts yearn for them. Though the bitter grief has softened, a duller pain abides, for the place where once they stood is empty now. The links of life are broken, but the links of love and longing cannot break. Their souls are bound up with ours forever. O Lord, we thank You for allowing me to have these very special people in my life. I have been truly blessed by their presence, their words and actions, and their love. I grieve not for them, but for myself, as I truly miss them. We shared so much, and yet I feel our times together were fleeting. Help me, O God, to realize that the distance between us now is not so great and that one day, I will be reunited with them in paradise. Together, we will glorify You, Almighty Father, Your only Son, Jesus Christ, and Your Holy Spirit for all eternity. Amen.

UNISON: We acknowledge our indebtedness to God.

PASTOR REIVES: May God remember forever our dear ones, who have gone to their eternal rest. May they be at one with the One Who is life eternal. May the beauty of their lives shine forevermore, and may our lives always bring honor to their memory. Amen.

UNISON: Now, therefore let it be known by all and in the sight of Almighty God, that we, the people, have reconsecrated these sacred grounds — renewed, hallowed, blessed, sanctified, and thus rendered HOLY to the Glory of God and to the good of all of mankind. Amen.

After we all recited the Lord’s Prayer, Rev. Christopher Wyckoff of Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church delivered a benediction in which he reminded us that we must seek justice all across our community, not just for Vick Cemetery.

Photo and video courtesy of Jen Kehrer.