cemetery

Lane Street Project: April clean-up schedule.

Finally — a warm community clean-up day!

Please come out to Odd Fellows Cemetery on April 10 and 24 and join your neighbors in the clean-up of three historic African-American cemeteries. All are welcome!

This month, we really need your help:

  • Pruning shrubs and limbing up hollies around the Vick Cemetery monument
  • Cutting wisteria stumps in Odd Fellows Cemetery close to the ground for later defoliation treatment
  • Clearing underbrush and removing trash
  • Recording GPS coordinates for each grave marker (email me at lanestreetproject@gmail.com if you’re interested in this task)

Please protect yourself on-site — masks required, boots and gloves strongly encouraged. 

As always, THANK YOU!

Lane Street Project: three months in.

On 13 December 2020, I posted this:

Frankly, I didn’t expect much. I’d made similar appeals before and then spent hours tangled up in briers by myself. December 15, 2020, though, was different. Despite cold weather and Covid-19, a dozen people (and, critically, a newspaper reporter) came with pruners and rakes and surgical masks — and Lane Street Project stepped into its purpose. We’re still feeling our way to long-range plans, but short-term we’re exceeding my wildest dreams.

What Lane Street Project has done in three months:

  • Developed a fantastic core team of volunteers responsible for planning, promoting, supplying, and managing bimonthly clean-ups at Odd Fellows Cemetery, as well as strategizing about ways to encourage community engagement in the reclamation of these historic African-American spaces
  • Conducted two informal and five planned clean-ups at Odd Fellows Cemetery with a multi-ethnic, multi-generational crew of enthusiastic, hardworking volunteers
  • Built a tool bank for volunteer use during clean-ups
  • Recovered the gravesite of educator, businessman and community leader Samuel H. Vick; cleared the grave of Red Hot Hose Company chief Benjamin Mincey; and named and reclaimed the gravesites of 22 more individuals (bringing the total at Odd Fellows to 76), for which we maintain a detailed spreadsheet 
  • Developed relationships with established organizations doing similar work in African-American cemeteries across the Southeast 
  • Developed relationships with allies in local government, business, and the faith community, as well as individuals willing to invest time and talent to our efforts to preserve and protect the historic burial grounds of thousands of Wilson’s African-Americans
  • Begun to map the locations of graves at the site
  • Developed a plan for responsible defoliation of invasive plant species in Odd Fellows cemetery 

We’ve accomplished a lot in three months, but there is so much more to be done. Thanks so much to those who have supported us with gifts of labor, tools, coins, cheerleading, signal-boosting, and prayer. Please continue to do so! Follow us on Instagram at @lanestreetproject; join us on Facebook at Lane Street Project; reach out to us at lanestreetproject@gmail.com. In the coming months, we’ll be broadening our focus from clean-up to documentation and restoration, and we will need your help at every step. 

Photo of Corp. Willie Gay’s headstone courtesy of Drew C. Wilson.

Lane Street Project: African-American cemeteries and cemetery projects.

Odd Fellows Cemetery, Wilson, N.C., January 2021.

It is impossible to list every African-American cemetery in the United States. Or even every abandoned African-American cemetery. Here, however, is the start of a running list of abandoned or abused African-American cemeteries whose particular circumstances have garnered media (or my) attention, and the organizations attempting to reclaim them. It takes its inspiration from the Adams-McEachin African American Burial Grounds Network Act, which proposes a voluntary national database of historic African-American burial grounds. This legislation would also establish a National Park Service program, in coordination with state, local, private, and non-profit groups, to educate the public and provide technical assistance for community members and public and private organizations to research, survey, identify, record, and preserve burial sites and cemeteries within the Network.

NORTH CAROLINA

  • Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick Cemeteries, Lane Street Project, Wilson
  • Oakdale Cemetery, Wilson
  • South Asheville Cemetery, Asheville
  • Cemetery, Ayden
  • Black Bottom Memorial Cemetery, Belhaven
  • Cedar Grove Cemetery, Charlotte
  • Geer Cemetery, Friends of Geer, Durham
  • Oak Grove Cemetery, Elizabeth City
  • Elm City Colored Cemetery, Elm City
  • Greenleaf Cemetery, Goldsboro
  • Bryan Cemetery, James City
  • Glades and McDowell Cemeteries, McDowell Cemetery Association, Marion
  • Greenwood Cemetery, New Bern
  • Oberlin Cemetery, Raleigh
  • Unity Cemetery, Rocky Mount
  • John N. Smith Cemetery, Cemetery Restoration Committee, Southport
  • Green Street/Union Grove Cemetery, Statesville
  • Pine Forest Cemetery, Wilmington
  • Saint Phillips Moravian Second Graveyard, Winston-Salem

ALABAMA

ARKANSAS

  • Cherokee Cemetery, Huntington

FLORIDA

GEORGIA

ILLINOIS

KENTUCKY

  • African Cemetery #2, Lexington

MARYLAND

MICHIGAN

  • Detroit Memorial Park, Detroit

MISSISSIPPI

  • Old Lottville Cemetery, Farmhaven
  • Saint Luke’s Cemetery, Meridian
  • Noble Cemetery, Yazoo County

NEW JERSEY

  • African Burying Ground, Bedminster
  • Johnson Cemetery, Camden

NEW YORK

  • Mount Zion Cemetery, Kingston
  • African Burial Ground, Manhattan

PENNSYLVANIA

SOUTH CAROLINA

  • Douglas Cemetery, Columbia
  • Randolph Cemetery, Columbia
  • Silver Bluff Cemetery, Jackson
  • Old Soapstone Cemetery, “Little Liberia,” Pumpkintown

TENNESSEE

  • Beck Knob Cemetery, Chattanooga

TEXAS

VIRGINIA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

  • Columbian Harmony Cemetery
  • Mount Zion and Female Union Band Society Cemetery

WEST VIRGINIA

  • Anderson Cemetery, Glen Allen

“You got to know where you and how you got to where you are.” — Charles White, local historian, Buckingham County, Virginia

Lane Street Project: Bones found along the road.

In September 1985, a man jogging along Lane Street discovered human bones lying in a ditch. What happened after is a dispiritingly familiar tale of denial and deflection. 

Wilson Daily Times, 23 September 1985.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 September 1985.

In a nutshell:

  • The jogger had the bones examined by a friend who worked in the Edgecombe County Coroner’s Office, who estimated they were 50 to 60 years old. (The bones themselves were from a 50 to 60 year-old person? Or had been buried 50 to 60 years prior? And why didn’t the Wilson County coroner step in immediately?)
  • The jogger found the bones “on the left side of Lane Street Extension about ten feet from a grave that had been capped with concrete.” (“Left side” is relative, and maddeningly imprecise in a news story, but I interpret this as the opposite side of the road from the main cemeteries, i.e. the left side if one is facing MLK Parkway/Highway 264.)
  • A Cemetery Commission spokesperson identified four cemeteries on Lane Street. (There were, in fact, six — Masonic, Hamilton, Rest Haven, Vick, Odd Fellows, and Rountree.)
  • The city did not begin maintaining Lane Street until after 1972, when it annexed land east and south of Highways 301 and 264. “About five years ago [i.e. 1980], the city attempted to define the road and found, because of the numerous graves in the area, only a 40- to 45-foot right of way could be allowed, compared to the usual 60-foot right of way.” 
  • The city “routinely” scraped the dirt road and cleared the ditches, but “wasn’t sure” when Lane Street had last been maintained. (Yes, you read that right. Past Rest Haven and around to its intersection with Highway 264, Lane Street was unpaved until the late 1980s. Maybe the 1990s. I’ll search for a precise date.)
  • Citing the unusual nature of the find, a county health department spokesperson said she would have to check to determine who was responsible for reburying the bones.
  • The next day, the Public Works Department weighed in to disclaim any responsibility. “We’re not doing anything right now. We’re not aware that we have disturbed any graves.” Further, its spokesman asserted his belief that bones had been recently deposited.
  • He allowed that some unusual things had taken place though. “There is a concrete slab over one grave on one side of the road that wasn’t there when we annexed the property in 1972. The marker says the person died in 1950, but the slab has been poured in the last five or six years.” (I saw that slab as a child riding my bicycle on Lane Street in the mid-1970s. It lay at the very edge of the ditch, with one long edge fully exposed, on the side of the road opposite the main cemeteries. Rountree Missionary Baptist Church owns parcels on both sides of the road, as noted here. Whenever the slab was laid — by a family attempting to ward off the encroaching roadway? — it is no longer there. See my visit to that side of the road here and here.)
  • A former county sanitarian reported that he’d received a call from a woman who believed her relatives might be buried under Lane Street. (This just gets worse and worse.) Public Works: “Asa was going to look into that for me. It could be that we need to find out who that could be and see if they want to do some digging out there to remove the remains.” (“Could be”? And who is “they”? The families whose relatives’ graves the city desecrated?)
  • The police removed the bones, but provided no one knowledgeable enough to make a comment.

And this is the last mention of these bones, or graves lost under Lane Street, that I have found to date. Were they ever reburied? Where? If they weren’t old, was there ever an investigation to determine to whom they belonged and how they came to rest in a Lane Street ditch?

Many thanks to Tracey Barnes for bringing the September 24th article to my attention and alerting me to this chapter of the Lane Street cemeteries’ history.

Lane Street Project: 20 February clean-up.

Lane Street Project’s fourth official clean-up day dawned blue and brilliant … and frigid. Dozens of stalwarts appeared, though, right on time. Any day we can come together for a common purpose is a good day, but today was extra special. Many thanks to LSP Team Member Raven S. Farmer, who first proposed a candlelighting service to honor those buried in these cemeteries; to Dr. Judy Wellington Rashid, who shared impactful words of prayer, reflection, and challenge; and to all who gathered. Many were moved to voice their thoughts about their Lane Street Project experiences, and we are grateful for your support and the example of unity and community that you embody.

LSP Team Members Charles Eric Jones, Raven S. Farmer, LaMonique Hamilton, Portia Newman, Joyah Bulluck, and Brittany Daniel with Rev. A. Kim Reives and Dr. Judy Wellington Rashid, our esteemed guests and allies.

A big “thank you” to Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard, who showed up not just to show up, but to put in work! Sheriff Woodard’s Wilson County roots run deep, and he likely has family buried in one of the LSP cemeteries.

This chain-link fence divides Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries. Before yesterday morning, it was nearly invisible under a heavy cloak of honeysuckle and weedy saplings. Targeted attacks on specific problem areas are yielding immediately visible results.

When we tell you this is a multigenerational effort, we mean it!

The young people of the Wilson Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have shown incredible commitment to the Lane Street Project’s work. Thank you!

A generous donor has provided a roll-off dumpster for LSP clean-ups. All of this brush is the result of just one work day! 

Today’s great find — a brick burial vault, the first located in Odd Fellows cemetery.

——

Dr. Rashid graciously shared the text of her responsive reading yesterday:

To our Ancestors here in these hallowed grounds, because you were, we are.

So we are here.

As in the song “The Impossible Dream” by the Temptations, we dare to fight the unbeatable foe and to run where the brave dare not go.

So we are here.

We will right the unrightable wrong and try even when our arms are too weary.

So we are here.

We understand that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr.

So we are here.

“We chose to tell OURstory, not HIStory.” Dr. Judy Rashid.

So we are here.

“We recognize that the whole truth is the matter, plus the hidden facts.” Dr. Judy Rashid.

So we are here.  

“Never allow anyone to tell you that your history and culture are not important. Never let anyone tell you ‘it happened a long time ago — get over it!’ Make your history sacred.” Runoko Rashidi

So we are here.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler.

So we are here.

“No people are really free until they become the instrument of their own liberation. Freedom is not legacy that is bequeathed from one generation to another. Each generation must take and maintain its freedom with its own hands.” John Henrik Clarke.

So we are here.

“Let us not  forget who we were so we will know what we still can be.” John Henrik Clarke, paraphrased.

So we are here.

“It is up to us to tell our story in our own way without stuttering, without stammering, without whispering and without apologies.” Runoko Rashidi.

So we are here.

“We are not organized to hate other men but to lift ourselves and to demand respect for all humanity.” Marcus Garvey.

So we are here.

Finally, we know that “when your roots are so deep, there is no reason to fear the wind.” African proverb.

So we are here.

Many thanks to Brittany Daniel, Portia Newman, and A. Kim Reives for these photographs.

“Gone But Not Forgotten,” again.

There was a recording glitch the first time around, so …

It’s the Encore (and a little bit updated) Edition of GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Wilson’s African-American Cemeteries.

You are invited to attend via Zoom, 15 February 2021 at 7:00 PM Eastern Time.

Please register in advance for this meeting:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMkdO6qpzMiG9W-Pby5RTH1Ay4vgkHsT2pC

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with information about joining the meeting.

If you missed the first talk, I hope to see you at this one!

Photograph of Lula Dew Wooten’s gravestone in Odd Fellows cemetery by Lisa Y. Henderson, January 2021.

Anchor-and-Ivy Style.

I’ve written about the artistry of Clarence Best‘s distinctive grave markers and the markers I’ve dubbed Concrete Stipple Style. Another common school of gravestones found in Black Wilson County cemeteries is one I’ll call Anchor-and-Ivy. The basic form: a concrete monolith with rounded top; a panel featuring an anchor and ivy vine; deeply stamped letters in a strongly serifed, all-caps font similar to Century Schoolbook; tight line spacing; and irregular indentation. They also often display lengthy, if formulaic, epitaphs. 

The headstones below are found across Wilson County, though I’ve seen the style as far afield as southern Wayne County. Were they the work of a single artist or workshop? 

Renda wife of James Green. Died June 2, 1908, Age 47 Yrs. Gone to a brighter home where death cannot come.

W.S. Ward. Born Apr. 12, 1901. Died Jan. 12, 1929. Another link is broken in our household bank, but a  chain is forming in a better land.

John H. Jones. Born July 4, 1851. Died June 10, 1928.  

Rufus, son of James and Amelia Artis. Born July 16,1900. Died April 24, 1916. We Can Safely Leave Our Darling Harboring In Thy Trust.

Tempsey, wife of Rufus Speight. Died July 15, 1917. Age 75 years. Gone To A Brighter Home Where Grief Cannot Come.

Lane Street Project: the Black History Month Clean-ups!

Lane Street Project is a community initiative dedicated to the documentation and preservation of three African-American cemeteries. In so doing, we also work to highlight and celebrate the history and culture of East Wilson.

If you missed the MLK Weekend Kick-Off, you have two chances this month to join Lane Street Project’s Community Cemetery Clean-Ups! Our ancestors ARE Black History. What better way to honor their legacy? 

Lane Street Project invites all of Wilson to join its Community Clean-Ups at Odd Fellows Cemetery, 2100 Bishop L.N. Forbes St. Please bring hand tools, trash bags, and gloves to help clip vines and small tree limbs, rake debris, remove trash, and search for hidden headstones. Masks and social distancing required.

Concrete Stipple Style.

I’ve gone on and on about the artistry of Clarence B. Best, the marble cutter who carved hundreds of gravestones in and around Wilson County between the 1920s and mid-1970s. Now, after a few years of exploring local African-American cemeteries, I recognize the signature work of other monument makers. Whether the work of an individual, like Best, or a company, they were likely produced in Wilson or an adjoining county, and perhaps by African-American craftsmen.

One common type of concrete monuments dates from the first quarter of the twentieth century. The basic design, which I will call Concrete Stipple Style, is a large rectangle with rounded edges, a smooth central field with stamped block letters and no punctuation, and a stippled border. Unlike Clarence Best’s work, the inscriptions are rigorously centered. I do not know enough about molding concrete to speculate why so many Concrete Stipple stones develop a deep crack about one-third down the face of the monument. (See below.)

A fine example of Concrete Stipple, except for the bullet holes. The couple are buried in Odd Fellows cemetery, and the stone probably dates from just after Daniel’s death in 1908. 

  • Lizzie May Barnes

Lizzie M. Barnes was buried in Odd Fellows cemetery in 1919.

  • Sylvania Sutton and Calvin Sutton

Sylvania and Calvin Sutton were buried in 1916 and 1922, respectively, in Polly Watson cemetery, which lies just over the Wilson County line in Wayne County.

  • Bessie McGowan

Bessie McGowan died in 1925 and was buried in Odd Fellows cemetery.

  • Harrison B. Davis

Harrison B. Davis died in 1915 and is buried in the Masonic cemetery.

  • C.S. Thomas

My guess would have been that this is a foot stone for the grave of Charles S. Thomas, who died in 1937. However, this marker is in the Masonic cemetery, and Charles S. Thomas’ lovely headstone is in Odd Fellows.