community service

Lane Street Project: Q’s & A’s — finding grave markers.

Lane Street Project is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick cemeteries. We welcome community volunteer support to achieve our goals of reclaiming the cemeteries and honoring the sacred remains of our ancestors. At present, Rountree and Odd Fellows are covered with 40+ years of overgrowth. Burials date back to the 1890s, and many of the graves have collapsed. It is a fragile environment.

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Q: I found a headstone! What do I do?

A: Congratulations! 

  • First, do no harm. The markers in Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries are 75-125 years old. The stone markers are generally marble, which is fragile. The cement markers are brittle. Don’t lean on them. The obelisks may shift from their bases. The headstones may break.
  • Mark the grave marker’s location with a red flag, and notify a Lane Street Project team member.
  • If the stone is upright, leave it as it is.
  • If it has fallen, but the inscription is readable, leave it as it is.
  • If it is buried, remove as much debris as possible by hand, then cut away vines or roots around the stone. Gently dig around the stone with a spade to loosen it from the soil and expose the inscription.
  • Do not move a headstone (or even pieces of broken headstone) from its original location.
  • Clean markers with water and a nylon-bristle brush only. Do not use soap, dishwashing liquid, detergent, or any other cleaning product to clean a grave marker, no matter how safe, gentle, biodegradable or natural the product claims to be. Do not use sponges or dish scrubbers. Brush gently to remove dirt and debris.
  • Take before and after photos!

Gray Pender’s headstone was recovered in December 2020. His daughter Louvenia’s marker was found nearby.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.

Lane Street Project: Q’s & A’s — what to do.

Lane Street Project is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick cemeteries. We welcome community volunteer support to achieve our goals of reclaiming the cemeteries and honoring the sacred remains of our ancestors. At present, Rountree and Odd Fellows are covered with 40+ years of overgrowth. Burials date back to the 1890s, and many of the graves have collapsed. It is a fragile environment.

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Q: So … what’s the plan?

A: Glad you asked.

  • You’ll be assigned to a lane marked at the edge of the overgrowth. Try to work straight back toward the rear of the property, maintaining social distance between you and the next person. 
  • The short-term goal is clear the cemetery of trash and undergrowth — vines, privet, vines, small shrubs … did I say vines? Wisteria and smilax (green with thorns) are probably the worst invaders, with honeysuckle a close third. You can’t go wrong by cutting every vine you see, both at ground level and as high as you can reach.

Wiley Oates’ lovely monument was covered with a cape of honeysuckle vine. If the vines aren’t cut back hard, the obelisk will disappear again come summer.

  • Watch out — vines can snap back and pop you pretty hard. 
  • Also, watch your feet. Vines can trip you, and you’ll want to avoid stepping into sunken graves, animal burrows, or other holes in the ground.
  • Please don’t try to cut down any trees.
  • Please haul out any trash you find, but do not move grave markers. Here’s what to do instead. Markers may look like chunks of concrete or rocks, so to be on the safe side, don’t move any of either. 

An entry into Odd Fellows opened by volunteers in December 2020. 

Lane Street Project: Q’s & A’s — what to bring.

Lane Street Project is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick cemeteries. We welcome community volunteer support to achieve our goals of reclaiming the cemeteries and honoring the sacred remains of our ancestors. At present, Rountree and Odd Fellows are covered with 40+ years of overgrowth. Burials date back to the 1890s, and many of the graves have collapsed. It is a fragile environment.

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Q: Hey! I’ll be there! What should I bring?

A: Thank you! The most important thing, of course, is a MASK! This will be a COVID-conscious event, and masks and social distancing will be required.

Also:

  • Your own particular talents. Whether strong arms or strong voices of encouragement, we need what you bring!
  • Protective clothing such as long sleeves, gloves, and boots. 
  • Hand tools only — hand pruners, loppers, hedge trimmers, mattocks, rakes, spades, etc.
  • No chainsaws. No other mechanized or heavy equipment. 
  • Jugs of water and nylon-bristle brushes for cleaning headstones, but no soaps, detergents or other cleaning agents. They will damage the headstones. 
  • Trashbags. 

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.

Lane Street Project: Q’s & A’s — preliminary info.

Lane Street Project is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick cemeteries. We welcome community volunteer support to achieve our goals of reclaiming the cemeteries and honoring the sacred remains of our ancestors. At present, Rountree and Odd Fellows are covered with 40+ years of overgrowth. Burials date back to the 1890s, and many of the graves have collapsed. It is a fragile environment.

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Q: I’m coming to the Clean-Up Kick-Off! What do I need to know?

A: First, Lane Street Project appreciates you!

Here are a few things to know before you arrive:

  • Masks and social distancing will be enforced at the Clean-Up Kick-Off. For real. Be safe!
  • Wear comfortable protective clothing – gloves, boots, long-sleeved outer garments.
  • Cleaning up abandoned cemeteries carries risks of injury, and you will be required to sign a waiver before you begin working.
  • At the beginning of each clean-up session, Lane Street Project volunteers will explain the history of the cemeteries and go over guidelines. 
  • To facilitate social distancing, you’ll be assigned a clean-up lane. 
  • Please bag all trash and cuttings and dispose of them in the bins provided. 
  • Here’s what to bring — and what not.
  • Here’s what to do if you find a headstone or other grave marker.
  • The atmosphere will be joyous and celebratory, but these are cemeteries — please be respectful.

Odd Fellows cemetery on a sunny December morning. Della Hines Barnes’ marble headstone inspired Lane Street Project’s logo.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.

Lane Street Project: Clean-Up Kick-Off!

PRESS RELEASE

Wilson, NC (January 16th, 2021) – Community leaders, spearheaded by historian Lisa Y. Henderson, are eager to announce Lane Street Project, a community initiative dedicated to the restoration of three historic African-American cemeteries in Wilson, NC and to the preservation of our community’s culture and history.

Lane Street Project is calling for volunteers to join its Community Clean-Up Kick-Off as we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and prepare for Black History Month. The Project’s bimonthly clean-up events at Odd Fellows Cemetery, 2100 Bishop L.N. Forbes St. [formerly Lane St.], will kick off Saturday, January 16, 2021, and continue Monday, January 18, 2021. Hours both days will be 9-11 AM and 12-2 PM. Community members can contribute by picking up trash, cutting and pruning weeds and vines, and sharing stories and oral history. Lane Street Project welcomes volunteers to bring hand tools, jugs of water, gloves and trashbags to help ease clean-up efforts.

“This is a unique opportunity to honor both our ancestors and an important historic community space,” said Henderson. These cemeteries were founded nearly 125 years ago, and have been neglected for half that time. These are our families, our people, and I’m hoping all of Wilson will work together to restore this sacred space.”

Lane Street Project hopes that volunteers of all ages and abilities will help to restore dignity and respect to the men and women buried in these cemeteries, both working people and some of Wilson County’s most prominent historic African-Americans. In addition to the physical work of clearing Odd Fellows cemetery of undergrowth, Lane Street Project invites community members to come share their experiences and perspectives on the project’s importance.

This historic cemetery clean-up is a prime opportunity for individuals, faith-based communities, and community organizations interested in an impactful way to participate in National Service Day and to support the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther Jr.

Participants must wear masks at all times, and this will be a socially distanced event. In addition, liability waivers will be required.

To learn more about Lane Street Project, please visit afamwilsonnc.com or @lanestreetproject on Instagram.

Lane Street Project: Volunteers recover Wilson’s lost history — Group scours neglected cemeteries for missing graves.

Lane Street Project is preparing the announcement of its 2021 kick-off clean-up of Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries on January 16 and 18 to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and National Day of Service. Stay tuned and, in the meantime, here’s an article by Drew C. Wilson that ran 16 December 2020 in the Wilson Times. 

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About 45 minutes into an effort to clear vines and overgrowth from African American graves, volunteers fulfilled one of their major objectives Tuesday, locating Samuel H. Vick’s resting place. 

The prominent Wilsonian is Vick Elementary School’s namesake. 

“He was born enslaved in Nash County and came to Wilson at an early age,” said Lisa Henderson, a historian and organizer of the Lane Street Project to locate missing graves in Wilson’s Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries. “He was an educator, was a businessman, was one of the founders of Calvary Presbyterian Church, was postmaster of Wilson, very politically involved and arguably, in the first half of the 20th century, was the most prominent African American citizen of Wilson.”

It was Vick who famously brought Booker T. Washington to Wilson on Nov. 3, 1910.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Henderson said. “It’s really what the Lane Street project is all about. It’s not only raising awareness of the condition of these cemeteries, but also bringing back graves that have been lost for 50, 60, 70 years.”

Armed with loppers, pruners and picks, volunteers chopped and cut their way through inches-thick, decades-old vines.

“This grave that we just found is a Pender,” Henderson said as grime was smoothed away from the tannin-stained face of Gray Pender’s marble marker.

“Honestly, that is a Wilson family name. This person may have relatives right here in Wilson right now,” Henderson said. “It is indescribable to me. It’s really what it’s about.”

Henderson said she hopes individuals and groups will get involved in recovering this lost history.

“Pick a Saturday, come out here with some loppers, some hand pruners and just knock back some weeds,” Henderson said. “Hopefully, maybe by spring we will be able to see that there is a cemetery again, and that will help us decide what the best course is going forward. Obviously, I would ask anybody who comes out here to be respectful. This is hallowed ground, even if it is abandoned. But other than that, this belongs to everybody.”

Henderson said more than 1,500 graves are in the 11 acres of cemetery land at the east Wilson site.

“There are three cemeteries. We are now standing in Rountree Cemetery.  East of Rountree is Odd Fellows and beyond that is a big open field that’s actually a cemetery, that’s Vick. African Americans were buried in these three cemeteries,” Henderson said.

Henderson said African American history is Wilson’s history.

“It is all of our history. It is something that we all can be proud of. It is something that contributed to the city as a whole and the same with these cemeteries,” Henderson said.

Castonoble Hooks, one of the volunteers, said he had mixed emotions about the effort.

“First of all, I am honored to be restoring honor to people who have been overlooked for so long, understanding as I do the sacrifices these people made,” Hooks said. “I am appalled by the fact that they have been allowed to come to this point of desecration and to be allowed to stay that way for so long. I am delighted to discovered the ones we are discovering, but then when I looked across the field at the thousands of slaves and regular citizens whose tombstones and markers and indicators were removed under and agreement to be placed back and a promise never kept, that saddens me tremendously. I am going to do whatever I can in my lifetime to restore some dignity to these people’s names and memories.”

Hooks was referring to the nearby Vick Cemetery.

Henderson said the city of Wilson basically desecrated the graveyard. 

“They leveled it. They removed all the tombstones, put them somewhere and have now lost them. We have no idea, no record of who was buried in that cemetery,” Henderson said. “Obviously, there are two streams of responsibility. There is the responsibility of our own community for stepping into the breach and doing something about this. There is also the responsibility of the city of Wilson, which denied its ownership of that cemetery of Vick for decades and then, when they stepped in to do something, they destroyed it and made it impossible for people to find out who was there.”

Henderson said it’s not clear what path forward the project will take.

“All we are out here to do today is to try to make it easier for people to get in here,” Henderson said. “There is long-term goal and there is a role for the city of Wilson to play in terms of making this situation right. There is a role for all of the owners of these cemeteries to play, a role for all of us.”

For native Wilson families, Henderson said there’s likely a connection to the people buried here. 

“If you are here and you have roots in Wilson, you’ve got somebody in these cemeteries,” Henderson said. “You’ve got lots of somebodies in these cemeteries. I can’t stand and wait for the city to do something when we can do something. It just takes a little bit of effort and commitment and a decision to honor who’s here to get some amazing things done, so we will be out here Thursday.”

Volunteers plan to meet from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday to continue clearing around any graves they locate.

Charlie Farris, chairman of the Wilson Cemetery Commission, said he’s heartened that the group cares for Wilson’s departed. 

“I’m glad that there are people wanting to locate the graves of people buried 70 or 80 years ago, and I wish the city of Wilson would come out with its equipment and clear this whole area,” Farris said. “There are graves 100 feet deep inside that haven’t been seen in years. I am just thrilled that there are concerned citizens that can come out and help clean it. These are cemeteries within the city, and something needs to be done.”

For more information, visit Henderson’s website, “Black Wide-Awake,” at  https://afamwilsonnc.com. The site details a broad range of African American history in Wilson. 

Photo by Drew C. Wilson, courtesy of Wilson Times.

Lane Street Project: Annie Washington Vick.

We were exulting over the discovery of Samuel H. Vick‘s headstone when we stumbled upon the vault cover for his wife, Annie Washington Vick.

Though her obituary states that she was buried in Rountree cemetery, Vick actually was interred in Odd Fellows cemetery.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 August 1952.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.

Lane Street Project: a day of reclamation, no. 1.

Today, I’m filled with gratitude.

Thank you, Craig Barnes Jr., for the day’s first and biggest find — the long-lost gravestone of Samuel H. Vick. (And for the current affairs lesson.)

“He was faithful and upright in all his works.” Samuel H. Vick’s grave marker, engraved by Clarence B. Best, has been buried under soil, vines, and leaves for more than 30 years.

Thank you, Castonoble Hooks, my biggest cheerleader, for a strong back, useful tools, and community conscience.

Thank you, Jennifer Baker Byrd, Brooke Bissette Fisher, and Brian Grawberg of Imagination Station for continuing to support — in concrete ways — the preservation of all Wilson’s history.

Working to free up Vick’s headstone. The upright marker in the foreground is that of his daughter Irma Vick, who died in 1921 at age 16.

Thank you, LaMonique Hamilton, Tiyatti Speight, and Joyah Bulluck for that next-generation sisterhood — you put in some work today!

Thank you, Charles Jones (Jamal Abdullah), for going above and beyond — when I drove down Lane Street hours later, he was at Odd Fellows with a lawn mower!

We also located Annie M. Washington Vick‘s vault cover next to her husband’s grave.

Thank you, John Woodard and Greg Boseman, for your efforts to correct and redirect narratives about East Wilson.

Thank you, Dr. Judy Rashid and Rev. Kim Reives, for coming all the way from Raleigh to witness and, most importantly, to pray over the work being done to honor and reclaim our ancestors.

Thank you, Charlie Farris of Wilson Cemetery Commission, for seeking understanding and seeing for yourself the conditions at Vick, Odd Fellows, and Rountree cemeteries.

Craig Barnes Jr., who first detected Vick’s headstone beneath the tangle of wisteria vines.

Thank you, Drew C. Wilson of the Wilson Times, for showing up and staying for hours to chronicle the next phase of these historic burial grounds. 

We remember.