community service

Lane Street Project: spring has come.

I confess to some shock. Spring is relentless in eastern North Carolina; April is the scene of boundless vegetal fecundity. The green took my breath away.

Odd Fellows is fighting back.

The boundary between Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

The winter’s hard work is not undone, however. Though new sprigs of wisteria sprout from the stubs of vines, young trees have been thinned out, and the forbidding leading edge of solid woodland has retreated a few dozen yards. We are likely to halt organized clean-ups during the summer in order to avoid some of the hazards of wild woods and to focus on several related projects. Thus, your help in the next few weeks is even more critical to maintaining the progress we have made. Please join us April 24!

Henry Tart’s headstone, which was nearly invisible from just a few feet away just months ago, is now readily seen from the woodline.

If you or your group were not able to join the Lane Street Project this past winter, I hope you will make plans to do so in 2021-22. Many hands make light work, and our ancestors need you.

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: a change of schedule and an invitation.

This is wisteria. Its lovely lilac racemes are harbingers of spring and the Easter season. It is also a scourge, invading native landscapes, girdling trees, and smothering trees via dense networks of runners that criss-cross the woodland floor. Wisteria eradication is the greatest challenge to reclaiming Odd Fellows and Rountree Cemeteries, but our teams of volunteers have made unbelievable progress in just three months.

LSP volunteer days at Odd Fellows are normally the first and third Saturday. However, Easter is the first Sunday in April this year, and for that reason we are shifting to the 2nd and 4th Saturdays for the month. We’ll need all the help we can get as the weather warms up and privet, honeysuckle, and wisteria try once again to overwhelm the cemetery. We also need help with two side projects — the pruning of trees and shrubs around the monument in Vick cemetery, and application of defoliant chemicals at Odd Fellows.

If you’ve been thinking of coming out, please do — and bring a friend. If you’ve already been, please come back — and bring your sorority sisters, your lodge brothers, your motorcycle club, your soccer team, your usher board, your anybody!

As always, thank you!

Lane Street Project: March 27 mini-projects.

Vick Cemetery, September 2020. The cherry tree at left is dead, smilax is overgrowing the rear, and shrubs and trees need hard pruning.

This Saturday, two teams of Lane Street Project volunteers will turn their attention to discrete tasks at the cemeteries. One group, headed by volunteer gardener Julia Newton, will focus on the 25-year-old planting of cherries, hollies, junipers, and eleagnus that has overtaken the memorial obelisk at Vick Cemetery. Anyone is welcome to join between 10:00 AM and noon, but she’d especially love to see “plant folks that know how to use pruners, loppers, and hand saws. Wheelbarrow operators also appreciated.” As always, masks and social distancing are required.

R. Briggs Sherwood will lead a second group working closely with a professional to apply an initial defoliant treatment to the areas previously cleared within the tree line at Odd Fellows Cemetery. We have made amazing progress clearing the growth strangling the cemetery, but without treatment much of our effort could be undone in the course of a single hot, humid growing season. Briggs anticipates that a few small teams of volunteers could handle this job effectively. Please note that this work involves chemical spraying, and volunteers should wear protective clothing, including coveralls, chemical-resistant gloves, goggles, and respirators. NO CHILDREN PLEASE.

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: 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.

Lane Street Project: B.H.M. Clean-Up testimony.

The community delivered another successful volunteer clean-up at Odd Fellows cemetery yesterday. I’ll let folk tell you about it.

Angie Hall stands near her finds.

Working toward the back of Odd Fellows, Angie Hall noticed several water-filled depressions. After clearing away vines and debris, she and another volunteer uncovered two headstones: “Today I did a thing. I volunteered to assist the Lane Street Project clearing out the old cemetery, and I discovered a few graves once my feet fell into a hole of water. Here I stand in front of two graves. I don’t know why I wanted to know more about who they were but the feeling of joy and accomplishment I felt was amazing. And today my grandma turned 80! What a blessing to be in the presence of my ancestors on this beautiful Saturday.”  

Joshua Robinson noticed that work was being done on more than one level: “Awesome experience, I am so happy to see such a project bring the community together. We were clearing tree limbs, vines, and other debris to find those lost to time, but we were also clearing the way for a better city, unity, and love!”
 
Julia Newton, who came to the Project from East Wilson’s Seeds of Hope community garden: “I spent some more time removing layers of wisteria roots from around the graves of Samuel and Annie Vick. It’s deeply humbling to do this work. This situation must exist in every community in the South. Thanks to everyone for their help and friendliness.”
 
Shaquanda King reflected on the impact of volunteering to improve her home community: “My cousin and I volunteered for the first time yesterday for the early morning. Was able to gain some knowledge and history from the overseers. It was an amazing experience for someone who was born and raised here.”
 
Janelle Booth Clevinger returned after helping make the January Clean-Up Kick-Off a success. She  encountered one of the cemetery’s vexing problems: “Another great afternoon spent with wonderful people! The best projects are grassroots projects, filled with people who are there for the right reasons! Thought I’d found an area full of tombstones, but they turned out to be strangely shaped pieces of concrete that resemble footings of some sort. We are thinking they may have been dumped there as trash. Leave it to me to find garbage.”
 
Castonoble Hooks, a key member of the Lane Street Project team: “Honored to be a part from the very start because I can see the progress firsthand. The removal of wisteria has opened up parts of this sacred burial site allowing the light of the sun to shine upon and bring honor again to our ancestors. Hands-on history, excited to see children black, white, and Hispanic working with fervor. This project, like no other, attracts the best of the best — a group as diverse as the country itself.”