cemetery

Soil map of Wilson County, 1925.

At last, a county map marked with the locations of Lane Street cemeteries. This 1925 soil map indicates a combined Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries at (A) and the Masonic cemetery at (B). There is no cemetery indicated in the general location of Oakdale cemetery (C). (Note that, as in the 1904 topographic map, the eastern arm of Lane extended to Stantonsburg Road and the western arm extended to what is now Pender Street.)

Detail of “Soil Map of Wilson County, North Carolina,” U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1929, available via East Carolina University Digital Collections.

 

Cemetery records request update, no. 5: the city’s response.

I have received the city’s response to my request for documents related to the removal and destruction of headstones from Vick cemetery, made under North Carolina’s Public Records Law.

My initial request to the Wilson Cemetery Commission was made 6 September 2019. (Thanks again to Heather Goff for her quick response.)

I followed up with letters to several city officials in October and November. The city clerk responded quickly to my first letter, providing copies of relevant city council minutes from 1990 to 1995. The city manager and city engineer did not respond at all, even to acknowledge receipt of my request.

On 30 December 2019, I sent a letter to the mayor of Wilson, the city manager, and all seven council members setting forth my concerns and my unanswered requests for information about Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries. At the behest of the city’s new mayor, Carlton Stevens, and council, city attorney James Cauley assumed responsibility for the search for responsive documents. I commend Mr. Cauley for his periodic updates on the status of the city’s response and for his candor concerning the paucity of records.

Here, in their entirety, are the documents I received.

(1) Purchase Order, dated 10 November 1994, for services by vendor PLT Construction, described in “Bid for improvements to S.H. Vick Cemetery.” The document’s right edge is cut off, but the amount the city paid was more than $139,000.

(2) A request for payment of balance due submitted by PLT Construction to the City of Wilson on 5 June 1995. Note the change item: “deduct for replacing headstones and portion of survey work.” PLT did not perform this work and thus credited the city $4500.

 

(3) A 21 June 1995 invoice for the amount set forth in PLT’s letter above.

(4) Page 1 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” Section 4A of this document is particularly interesting: “All existing graves whether marked by a grave marker or not shall be identified and located so as to be able to be re-located after completion of the work. A detailed survey may be needed in order to ensure that graves are marked in the correct location after completion of the work. A drawing showing all graves shall be prepared for future reference. All existing tombstones shall be removed, labeled, and stored until after all work is completed.” As we know, the grave markers were not relocated to the cemetery. They were stored for an indeterminate period of time, then destroyed.

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(5) Page 2 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” See particularly, Section E: “All graves identified and located prior to construction shall be re-located and marked. Graves shall be marked in one of two ways: (1) Tombstones removed from graves prior to construction shall be reset at the proper grave locations. (2) Any unmarked graves which were located shall be marked by means of a small metal marker as typically used in cemeteries. A map showing the locations of all graves shall be furnished to the City of Wilson.”

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(6) A plat map of the cemetery and surrounding properties, including Odd Fellows cemetery.

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(7) Another plat map prepared by F.T. Green and Associates [now Green Engineering]. Under the label “Odd Fellows Cemetery” is this note: “No deed on record. See D.B. 81, p. 196.”

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(8) This map, also prepared by F.T. Green, reveals with terrible clarity the reality of the smooth field that is now Vick cemetery. This map shows the location of every grave found on the site. You have to imagine the boundaries: Lane Street the top, woods to the right (concealing Odd Fellows cemetery) and bottom. The clear strip bisecting the map likely indicates an access lane. Contrary to claims made by public officials in the 1990s, Vick cemetery was laid out quite regularly. Graves were oriented parallel to the road (roughly northeast to southwest) in rows running perpendicular.

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Please look more closely. The resolution is awful, but these — hundreds, thousands of? — little marks are not just marks. They are numbers. Each grave was numbered as it surveyed, and the city cannot locate its copy of the key to these numbers. Nor, apparently, can Green Engineering.

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The takeaway: the city (or its contractors) surveyed and assigned each grave a number; prepared a map of those graves; removed the gravestones; graded the site; stored, then destroyed the gravestones; and lost the key that identified any of the graves that could be identified. 

I need to sit with this for a minute to process my sadness and anger and profound disappointment in the city’s handling of the “restoration and improvement” of a public cemetery founded during the darkest days of segregation and neglected through and after its fifty years as an active burial ground. The graves of the thousands of African-Americans buried in Vick cemetery remain in situ, the names of their dead lost.

Vick Cemetery, Christmas Eve 2019. 

The removal of graves from Oakdale cemetery.

Wilson really has not done right by its dead.

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Wilson Daily Times, 6 November 1941.

Some notes:

  • “the town had condemned the land to build several roads through it” — No mention of poor drainage conditions in the cemetery. Rather, a suggestion that the unnamed city alderman’s 1925 comment about the cemetery occupying valuable land had gained traction.
  • “the old negro Wilson cemetery over near Stantonsburg street” — Stantonsburg Street (now the lower section of Pender Street) ran just east of the cemetery.
  • “Dozens of graves” were moved to “the newer Rest Haven cemetery” — There were surely hundreds of people, not dozens, buried in Oakdale. Were unmarked graves left behind? Does the Cemetery Commission have records of this disinterment and reburial in Rest Haven?
  • “Most recent grave in the old cemetery that could be found was dated 1902” — This can only be true if they were not looking hard. The notice of removal of graves, published in 1940, stated that the last burials were in 1924.
  • “the cemetery is at least 50 years old.” — This roughly corroborates the founding of Oakdale as 1895, when county commissioners took up the question of a “suitable burying ground for the colored people.”

A list of known burials in the Colored Cemetery, also known as Oaklawn or Oakdale.

In 1895, county commissioners took up “a matter of importance,” the issue of “providing a suitable burying ground for the colored people” (which suggests that the old burial ground was critically unsuitable.) The location of the “new” cemetery is memorialized in the name of Cemetery Street. It was variously called the colored cemetery, Okalwn, Oakland and, most commonly, Oakdale cemetery. (Oddly, there seems to have been a white cemetery in Wilson in the early 20th century also called Oakdale.)

Most of the burials below were gleaned from the records of undertakers Wootten & Stevens. Oakdale accepted burials until the 1920s, but is rarely designated on death certificates. Prior to World War II, those records most often referred to “colored cemetery,” which could have been Oakdale, Rountree, Odd Fellows, Masonic or Vick cemeteries.

  • Barham, Hattie. Wilson. Died 30 April 1898, aged 22 years, of consumption. Wife of Alex Barham. Church funeral and burial at Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Barron, Alex. Wilson. Died 22 March 1899, aged 30 years, of consumption. Funeral at house. Burial in Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Battle, Turner. Wilson. Died 16 January 1899, aged 46, shot to death. Burial in Oakdale cemetery.
  • Beckham, Junius. Wilson. Died 24 September 1898, aged 9 months, of pneumonia. Burial in Colored Cemetery.
  • Best, Edward. Wilson. Died 29 May 1898. Funeral at Church. Burial in Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Best, Sylvia. Wilson. Died 17 May 1897, aged 65 years, of consumption. Mother of Ben Best. Funeral at home. Burial in Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Boykin, [no first name]. Wilson County. Died 18 November 1896, aged 8 months. Child of John Boykin. Burial in Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Bullock, Gladiss. Wilson. Died 10 October 1897, of brain fever. Funeral at home. Burial at Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Bynum, Lucy. Wilson. Died 12 November 1898, aged 75 years, of old age. Mother of Wright George Cooper and Amos Bynum. Burial in Oakdale cemetery.
  • Campbell, Fanny. Near Wilson. Colored. Died 25 August 1897, of worms, aged 4 years, 8 months. Buried in Oak Wood cemetery.
  • Cherry, Flora. Died 11 September 1898.  Funeral at church. Burial in Oakdale cemetery. “Flora Cherry was a member of the Burial Association and [was] buried by said Association.”
  • Clayton, Lucy. Died 23 September 1897, aged 1 month, 14 days. Burial in Oakdale cemetery.
  • Darden, Olive Oleta. Wilson. Died 6 April 1898, age 5 months 11 days, of bronchitis. Daughter of Charlie and Diana Darden. Funeral and burial at Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Farmer, _____. Wilson. Died 14 January 1899, of croup. Billed to John Wash Farmer. Buried in Oakdale cemetery.
  • Freeman, James. Wilson. Died 21 May 1899, age 29 years 2 months 10 days, of consumption. Buried in colored cemetery.
  • Gaffney, Andrew. Wilson. Died 6 January 1898. Billed to brother William Gotny [Gaffney]. Buried in colored cemetery.
  • Hill, Edgar. Wilson. Died 20 October 1897, age 16 years, of consumption. Son of Henrietta Hill and brother of Richard Norwood‘s wife. Funeral at home. Burial at Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Jackson, Rosa. Wilson. Died 5 July 1898, age 10 months, of cholera infantum. Child of Jos. S. Jackson.  Funeral at home. Buried colored Oakdale cemetery.
  • Jenkins, Annie Monite. Wilson. Died 20 May 1899, aged 24 years, of consumption. Daughter of Monite Jenkins. Buried Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Jones, Estelle. Wilson. Died 20 December 1896, age 9 months of fever. Buried at colored cemetery.
  • Jones, Gillie. Wilson. Died 31 October 1897, age 51 years, of bowel consumption. Wife of Alex Jones. Funeral at home. Buried at Oakdale cemetery.
  • Jordan, Ned. Wilson. Died 2 February 1898, age 65 years. Father of Charlotte Aycock. Buried in colored cemetery.
  • Lindsey, Frank. Wilson. Died 31 December 1898, age 27, of dropsy. Funeral at home. Buried at Oakdale cemetery. Billed to William Lindsey.
  • Mabry, James. Wilson. Died 15 June 1897, of consumption. Buried in colored cemetery. Bill to L.A. Moore.
  • Matthews, Tom. Wilson. Died 28 May 1899, age 37 years. Buried in colored cemetery. Billed to Town of Wilson. “Killed by Policeman George Mumford in the discharge of his duty. Coroner’s Inquest gave the above verdict.”
  • Mobley, Isaac. Wilson. Died 4 March 1899, age 21 years, of consumption. Buried in Oakdale cemetery.
  • Moore, ____. Wilson. Died 23 July 1898. Wife of Andrew Moore. Buried in colored cemetery.
  • Moore, ____. Wilson. Died 25 August 1898. Child of Henry Moore. Funeral in Methodist church. Buried in colored cemetery.
  • Moore, Lelia. Wilson. Died 6 February 1897, age 3 months, of a severe cold. Buried in Oak Dale cemetery. Billed to Bryant Moore.
  • Newkirk, Fenner. Wilson. Died 18 July 1897, age 28 years, of brain fever. Billed to Bettie Newkirk. Buried at Oak Dale Cemetery.
  • Parker, Harriet Jones. Wilson. Died 26 May 1898. Billed to Doane Herring. Burial at Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Parker, Stanley. Wilson. Died 2 August 1898, age 65, of old age. Funeral at home. Buried at Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Ransom, _____. Wilson. Died 19 February 1897 of “locked bowels.” “Was barber for long time.” Funeral at church. Buried in colored cemetery. Billed to Colored Odd Fellows. [Probably Hugh T. Ransom.]
  • Rogers, Marion L. Wilson. Died 26 April 1898, aged 5 months. Son of Wesley Rogers “who works with the American Tobacco Co.” Buried in colored cemetery.
  • Rowe, Annie Bill. Wilson. Died 16 August 1898, aged 3 months 16 days. “Child was left by her mother with Ben Parks and never came back.” Buried in old colored cemetery.
  • Sharp, _____. Rocky Mount.  Died 14 January 1899. Daughter of Sampson Sharp. “Died at Rocky Mt. & was brought to Wilson for interment.” Burial in Oakdale cemetery.
  • Sharp, Nellie. Wilson township. Colored. Died 20 December 1897, aged 58 years. Buried in Oak Dale cemetery. Billed to Wilson Sharp.
  • Simms, _____. Wilson. Died 9 May 1898, of pneumonia.  “Simms was a young man who had the misfortune to get both feet cut off by a R.R. train.” Buried in Oak Dale Cemetery. Billed to Lee Moore.
  • Stallings, Mary. Wilson. Died 15 June 1898, deranged, aged 20 years, 19 days. Funeral at home. Buried in “old section” of Oakdale cemetery. Billed to Gilbert Stallings.
  • Strickland, _____. Wilson.  Died 8 June 1899. Wife of Marcellus Strickland. Buried in colored cemetery.
  • Sugg, _____. Wilson. Died 4 April 1898, age 22, of fever. Billed to Haywood Best. Buried in Oakdale cemetery.
  • Sutton, William R. Wilson. Colored. Died 4 August 1897, aged 6 months. Child of Aider Sutton.  Funeral at church. Burial in old cemetery.
  • Thompson, Arthur. Wilson. Colored. Died 12 May 1897, of cold and measles, aged 1 year 3 months. Son of Isaac Thompson. Buried in Oak Dale cemetery.
  • Thorp, _____. Colored. Died 27 February 1897. Length 2’6″. Buried in colored cemetery. Billed to Edith Thorp.
  • Towe, _____. Wilson. Colored. Died 23 April 1899. Child of George W. Towe. Buried in colored cemetery.
  • Towe, Maggie I. Wilson. Colored. Died 15 April 1899, aged 39 years 4 months 18 days, in childbirth. Wife of Prof. G.W. Towe, a “teacher in the Col. Graded School.” Funeral in Methodist Church. Burial in colored cemetery. [Maggie Towe’s grave was moved to Rest Haven, where her headstone now stands.]
  • Vick, Viola Leroy. Wilson. Colored. Died 7 September 1897, of malarial fever, aged 2 years 10 months. Daughter of S.H. Vick. Buried in colored cemetery. [Viola Vick’s headstone was recently discovered in Odd Fellows cemetery in the Vick family plot. She was likely disinterred and reburied to that location.]
  • Wilkins, Mary. Wilson. Colored. Died 27 March 1899, age 43, of “internal tumor.” “Mary was wife of Redmond Wilkins, was in bad health for a long time, was a good woman.” Billed to Col. Mason. Buried in colored cemetery.

The deed for Rountree cemetery.

In early 1906, Rountree Missionary Baptist Church purchased part of the land that comprises part of Rountree cemetery. The deed is found in deed book 76, page 97, and is transcribed below. The deed describes a parcel only half the size of the current boundaries of Rountree’s lot. Was a later purchase consolidated?

——

North Carolina, Wilson County  }

This Deed, made this 24th day of February, A.D. 1906, by F.W. Barnes and wife Hattie B. Barnes, parties of the first part, to Charles Bullock, Jesse Barnes and William Crudup, Trustees of the Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, parties of the second part, WITNESSETH:

That the said parties of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of One Hundred Dollars to them in hand paid, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledge, have bargained and sold, and do by these presents convey unto the said parties of the second part, that certain lot of land lying and being situate in Wilson township, county and state aforesaid, adjoining the lands of J.C. Farrior, F.W. Barnes and the present church lot, above mentioned, and more particularly described as follows: Beginning in the middle of the canal [Sandy Creek], the present church lot corner, thence south 72 ½ west 270 feet to a stake, cornering, thence south 24 west 565 feet to the canal, cornering, thence up said canal to the beginning, containing one acre, more or less.

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD said real estate with the privileges and appurtenances thereunto belonging unto to the said parties of the second part and their successors in office in fee simple.

And the said F.W. Barnes for himself, his heirs and personal representatives do covenant to and with the said parties of the second part, their heirs, successors assigns: That he will forswear warrant and defend the title to said real estate against the lawful claim or claims of all other persons whomsoever.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, the said parties of the first part have hereunto set their hands and seals, the day and year first above written.   /s/ F.W. Barnes, M.B. Barnes

Witness: W.E. Warren

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.

A list of surviving headstones in Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

This is a running annotated list of people whose headstones still stand in Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

  • Barnes, Dave — Died 1935, age 52. Odd Fellows. Death certificate lists burial site as Wilson, N.C. (Undertakers C.H. Darden and Sons handled most of the Odd Fellows burials on this list, and their practice was to refer to the cemetery by this broad location name. Darden and Sons’ burials are marked CHD below.)
  • Barnes, Della — Born 1858, died 1935. Odd Fellows. Death certificate lists burial site as Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Barnes, Lizzie May — Born 1918, died 1919. Daughter of H[enry]. and L[ena]. Barnes. Death certificate: Wilson County, CHD.
  • Barnes, Nunnie — Born 1885, died 1921. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson County; CHD.
  • Barnes, Rosa (wife of Matthew Barnes) — Odd Fellows. Broken stone.
  • Batts, Amos — Died 1937. Rountree. Husband of Jennie Batts.
  • Batts, Jennie — Died 1945. Rountree. Wife of Amos Batts. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery; C.E. Artis.
  • Best family — Odd Fellows. Large flat family marker.
  • Carter, C.L.Clarence L. Carter. Odd Fellows. Foot marker only, engraved with Odd Fellows triple link and Masonic square and compass. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Dawson family — Odd Fellows. Large upright family marker.
  • Dawson, L. — Lucy Hill Dawson. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Dawson, Virginia S. — Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Ellis, Buster — Born 1914, died 1924. Rountree. Located in a cluster of broken stones, including grandmother Clarkie Ellis. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Ellis, Clarkie — Born 1853; died illegible. Rountree. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Farrior, Henry W., Rev. — Born 1859; died 1937. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Hilliard, Gus — Odd Fellows.
  • Hines, Walter S. — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Holloway, Louis — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only, engraved with Odd Fellows triple links.
  • Jackson, J.S. — Joseph S. Jackson. Born 1870, died 1942. Odd Fellows. Foot marker only, engraved with Odd Fellows triple links. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, CHD.
  • Marlow, Daniel — Born 1870, died 1918. Rountree.
  • McCullins, Fannie (wife of Andrew McCullins) — Odd Fellows. Broken stone.
  • Mincy, Oscar — Odd Fellows.
  • Mincy, Prince — Died 1902, age 61. Odd Fellows.
  • Oates, Ella (dau. of Charles Oates) — Born 1896, died 1913. Odd Fellows. Broken stone. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD.
  • Oates, Wiley — Born 1877, died 1913. Odd Fellows.
  • Oats, Charles — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only. Death certificate: Roundtree cemetery; CHD.
  • Oats, Emma — Died 1908, age 40. Odd Fellows.
  • Pitt, Washington — Died 1917, age 38. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Roberson, William — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only, engraved with Odd Fellows triple links.
  • Robins, Daisy — Died 1914, age 38. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Rountree, Delzela (dau. of Jack and Lucile Rountree)– Born 1897, died 1914. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.
  • Spicer, Omega C. — Died 1945. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; Hamilton Funeral Home. [Listed in Howell volume.]
  • Tart, Henry — Born 1886, died 1919. Odd Fellows.
  • Tate family — Odd Fellows. Large upright family marker.
  • Tate, Daisy (dau. of Hardy Tate) — Born 1914, died 1936. Odd Fellows.
  • Tate, Hardy — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only, engraved with Odd Fellows triple links.
  • Tate, John P. — Born 1905, died 1907. Odd Fellows.
  • Tate, Noah J. — Born 1875, died 1926. Odd Fellows. Foot marker only. Death certificate: ROuntrees cemetery, Artis & Flanagan.
  • Taylor, H.B. — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only, engraved with triple links and square and compass.
  • Thomas, Charles S. — Died 1937. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.
  • Thomas, Sarah (wife of Charlie Thomas) — Odd Fellows.
  • Unknown — Died 1921, age 51. Odd Fellows.
  • Uzzell, Millie — Born 1872, died 1928. Rountree. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Vick, Daniel — Died 1908. Odd Fellows.
  • Vick, Fannie Blount — Odd Fellows cemetery.
  • Vick, Irma (dau. of S.H. and A.M. Vick) — Born 1905, died 1921. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.
  • Vick, Viola Leroy — Born 1894, died 1897. Daughter of S.H. and Annie Vick. Odd Fellows.
  • White, Lucinda (wife of Geo. W. White) — Odd Fellows.
  • Williams, Louis — Odd Fellows.

A compilation of burials in Rountree and Vick (and Rest Haven) cemeteries.

In 2015, culminating a years-long project headed by Joan L. Howell, the Wilson County Genealogical Society published Wilson County Cemeteries, Vol. V: The Two City-Owned African-American Cemeteries, containing alphabetical listings of 11,472 burials in Rest Haven cemetery and 650 burials in Rountree-Vick cemetery.

Howell’s book is an invaluable resource for Wilson County researchers and — as far as we know — the sole list of burials in Rountree-Vick. Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile to assess this compilation in the light of recent discoveries concerning these cemeteries.

Confronted with the empty expanse of the Rountree-Vick memorial ground, Howell undertook an exhaustive search of death certificates filed in the Wilson County registrar’s office, abstracting all that gave “Rountree cemetery,” “Vick cemetery,” or “paupers cemetery” as the place of burial. An examination of the resulting list makes clear that these burials were in Rountree, Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries, which are contiguous, but separately owned, graveyards. And the list is incomplete.

Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries were in use by the late 1800s, and Rountree by 1900. However, the overwhelming majority of burials listed in this volume date from the 1940s. (Rest Haven was the city’s primary black cemetery thereafter.) There are a smattering of burials from the late 1930s, the 1950s and even the 1960s. Because North Carolina did not require death certificates until 1914, and death certificates did not list burial locations with specificity until around World War II, the first forty or so years of burials in these cemeteries are difficult to chronicle.

So, how many people are buried in Vick, Rountree and Odd Fellows? A 1995 Wilson Daily Times article estimated 1300.  However, as at least 600 were laid to rest here in the 1940s alone, this is surely a vast understatement. We may never arrive at a definitive number, but we can augment Howell’s list. I will start with a list of people whose burial in Rountree, Vick or Odd Fellows is memorialized by an existing headstone and continue with a list of people whose burial place is noted in a published obituary. Do you know of a family member buried in one these cemeteries? If so, please let me know. If I find that they are not listed in Howell’s book, they will be added to a third list. Thanks for your help.

Interested in purchasing a copy of Howell’s volume?  You can order one at http://www.wcgs.org.

Cemetery records request update, no. 4: ownership of the cemeteries.

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.

Cemetery records request update, no. 3: the background.

Yesterday I sent a letter to the mayor of Wilson, the city manager, and all seven council members setting forth my concerns and requests regarding the status of Vick, Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

In a nutshell, I requested:

  • the survey PLT prepared of Vick cemetery or confirmation that it was never done or no longer exists
  • the whereabouts of gravemarkers removed from Vick or confirmation of their destruction
  • a plat map showing the boundaries of Vick cemetery
  • a statement of the city’s position on the ownership of Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries

I have already had some fruitful responses, and I look forward to the action of promises fulfilled. (And broad-based support for same.) City government is not the only stakeholder here though, and the hot lights of factual inquiry may illuminate a need for sustained community volunteerism.

In the meantime, I am sharing some Wilson Daily Times articles from the first period of public interest in these cemeteries, which began in 1989 and culminated in 1996 with the erection of the monument at Vick cemetery.

On 23 February 1990, Carl W. Hines Sr. hit the nail on the head with his letter to the editor lamenting Sam Vick‘s lost grave and noting “[m]uch of the apathy surrounding the cemetery is a result of: 1. Public unawareness, 2. Uncertainty about ownership, 3. Condemnation, 4. Removal of gravestones, 5. Removal of many remains to Rest Haven and, of course, the dumping of trash in the area.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

On 11 January 1991, the paper published a photo of city workers clearing Vick cemetery with a bush hog. This apparently was the first official attention paid to a Vick clean-up.

On 13 September 1991, various city officials weighed on the status (and challenges) of clean-up efforts:

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On 6 January 1993, this:

Finally:

On 19 May 1996, the Times announced that the end was near, that Vick would soon be “a proper cemetery.” A plan to mark each grave had been abandoned during the project, and Deputy City Manager Charles Pittman III mentioned that a survey  done instead had located more than 1000 graves. Facing these numbers, the city determined that a single monument would be “wiser” and less costly to maintain to boot. Pittman also noted that 30-40 “relatively intact” tombstones were being collected for storage by the city.