community service

Lane Street Project: May 1 and 15 and then a break.

Henry Tart’s obelisk early on a spring morning, April 2021.

First, if you’ve been to even one of Lane Street Project’s Odd Fellows Cemetery clean-ups, we thank you. Y’all are the real MVPs.

Now, if you haven’t, and you’ve been thinking about it, please come out tomorrow, May 1, or May 15 for our last clean-ups of Season 1. See the photo above? We need to cut back the green shoots to enable our defoliation crew to get in a good, effective spray. There are also plenty of vines to sever a little deeper into the woods and along the fence line, and pile of debris to discard.

Also, buy you a teeshirt!

Over the summer we’ll be planning and strategizing for Season 2, hoping to build on our successes, take lessons from our mistakes, and figure out ways to energize and engage the community around the important and perpetual work to be done here. (And how pay for all of it!) We’d really love to see more involvement by our local churches and civic and social organizations. Even if you can’t (or don’t want to) tramp around in the woods, there are myriad ways to support LSP’s mission. Please reach out in the Comments here or at lanestreetproject@gmail.com, and together we’ll figure out how you can help us make a difference!

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson.

Lane Street Project: views of progress.

I was stunned last week by the new growth in Odd Fellows Cemetery, but I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. In just four months of work, Lane Street Project volunteers have transformed this burial ground. 

The photo below was taken from the access path into the cemetery from Lane Street. Ben Mincey‘s yellow and green fire hydrant is visible at bottom right. The trees at the front edge of the clearing are festooned with wisteria clipped at head-height. Back in December, these vines tethered the trees to the ground, forming a nearly impenetrable screen. The Mincey grave markers were barely visible inside the tree line.

Likewise, the chainlink fence between Odd Fellows and Vick Cemeteries was completely shrouded, mostly in honeysuckle and privet.

At left below, the headstones of Walter and Nettie Foster. In recent years, Nettie Foster’s marker was completely engulfed, and wisteria tendrils were tapping at her husband’s. The light-colored stubble in the foreground is in the area has been maintained by the city; the brown (tinged with new green) beyond was in the woods until recently.  

Here is the Vick family plot in its current state, with Wiley Oates‘ monument in the background. Before LSP began work, only Irma Vick‘s headstone was visible, and it was in danger of being engulfed. (See the wisteria rebounding around its base?) I had found Daniel and Fannie Blount Vick‘s double headstone and Oates’ marker earlier, but they could be reached only with great difficulty. Again, the curtains of clipped veins dangling from trees yields a measure of the density of the vegetation.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2021.

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