Wilson Daily Times, 21 March 2023.
Commemoration and celebration at Scarborough House.
Black Wide-Awake has featured several of Wilson County’s remaining antebellum plantation houses, including the James Scarborough house, built circa 1821, just outside Saratoga.
Now an event space and bed-and-breakfast, “Scarborough House Resort is committed to a long-term and ongoing effort to more deeply understand and respond to the historic role this property contributed to the injustice of slavery, as well as the legacies of enslavement on the Scarborough Plantation. Through engagement with the members of the Preservation of Wilson, collaborative projects with our surrounding community, and continued initiatives of learning and research, the Scarborough House Resort resolves to memorialize and reconcile with the wrongs of the past. We aim to follow a path of love and respect for all humanity, creating an inclusive environment, where all people will feel welcomed.” The site goes on to request that anyone with information, photographs, documents or other artifacts pertaining to Scarborough Plantation or its residents, enslaved or free, to contact PreserveOldWilson@gmail.com or reach out to the Scarborough staff.
I am thrilled and honored that Scarborough House has engaged me to research the property’s African-American past, a first step toward respect and reconciliation. On 22 April 2023 Scarborough House Resort is hosting a tea party to benefit Preservation of Wilson. Guests will enjoy a tree-planting in honor of Earth Day, learn the history of the house and its original inhabitants, and join in the dedication of a bench memorializing the lives of enslaved people who worked its land.
Photo collage courtesy of Scarborough House Resort.
Saving spaces (and myself.)
I repped hard for Wide-Awake yesterday at Save Your Spaces Festival, talking about Lane Street Project and the challenges and rewards of African-American cemetery preservation, as well as learning about amazing local projects here in Atlanta from public historians, artists, preservationists, and others of my new “tribe.”
Shouts out to moderator Dr. Shari L. Williams, who spearheads Macon County, Alabama’s The Ridge Archaeological Project, and co-panelist Debra Taylor Gonzalez of Friends of Geer Cemetery, which offers a model for how Lane Street Project might grow and what we might achieve.
Deep appreciation to the visionary Nedra Deadwyler, founder of Civil Bikes and Save Your Spaces, for pulling me into this conversation with gentle prods and encouragement over the past year or so. My acute awareness that I am neither a public historian nor preservationist by training has had me hiding my light, but this experience reassured me of the value I bring to the work. I’ll move forward with a steadier voice and better tools to help save the historic spaces that mean most to me.
Save Your Spaces.
I’m honored to join these amazing women at Save Your Spaces Cultural Heritage and Historic Preservation Festival to talk about successes and challenges in the critical work of preserving African-American cemeteries.
If you’re intrigued by local history, have stories to tell or histories to preserve, are curious and want to learn more about cultural heritage and create ways to preserve it, please join us March 4 at Create ATL, 900 Murphy Avenue SW, Atlanta.
Lane Street Project: a road trip to South Asheville Cemetery.
My maternal grandmother was from Iredell County, on the western edge of North Carolina’s Piedmont. Her grandfather John Walker Colvert’s sister, Elvira Colvert Morgan, last appears in records in 1880, when she and her husband shared a household with Squire Gray, a 20 year-old who likely was her close relative. By 1900, Squire Gray, his wife Rachel, and their daughters had moved 100 miles west and were living in the Kenilworth neighborhood of South Asheville. Squire Gray died 21 June 1921. His death certificate noted that he was 61 years old, was married to Rachel Gray, and worked as a common laborer. He had been born in Rowan County to Orange Gray and Rachel Colbert, and was buried in South Asheville Cemetery.
I visited Asheville this past weekend to celebrate my birthday. As we headed home yesterday morning, I pointed the car first at South Asheville Cemetery. Though relatively large, the cemetery is not easy to find. Its address is that of 1920s’ era Saint John “A” Baptist church, now inactive and tucked deep in the middle of a neighborhood that is clearly well-to-do and no longer predominantly African-American. Skirt the gates to the church’s little parking lot, however, and South Asheville Cemetery opens up before you.
It is billed as the oldest and largest public African-American cemetery in North Carolina, and began in the 1840s as a cemetery for the enslaved laborers of the family of William Wallace McDowell. It was active until the 1940s and fell into disrepair thereafter. In the 1980s, church members began working to restore the cemetery and bring it back to the public’s attention. South Asheville Cemetery Association’s website details the cemetery’s history, links to an enviable set of maps of the locations of the cemetery’s two thousand burials, and displays photographs of the site in the early 1990s that make me dare to dream about what is possible at Odd Fellows and Rountree.
Only 98 headstones have been found in the cemetery, though the large undressed fieldstones scattered about most likely once marked graves.
A small weathered marker.
The new neighbors.
The grave of George Avery, the freedman and U.S. Colored Infantry soldier who was caretaker for the cemetery until his death in the 1930s. Avery kept mental, not written, records of the locations of burials in South Asheville.
The fine headstone of barber and Prince Hall mason Tecumseh C. Hamilton.
A cluster of headstones among the oaks, tulip poplars, and maples that tower over South Asheville Cemetery.
Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2021.
“As protesters demand a national reckoning on America’s whitewashed history, activists are rallying around a former abolitionists’ home in downtown Brooklyn with ties to the Underground Railroad as a chance to diversify historic preservation. High-profile endorsements to designate the building with landmark status, including by Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Attorney General Letitia James, have bolstered a campaign by activists that goes back 16 years. …”
“Of course Black lives matter,” said [preservation activist Michael Henry] Adams. “Of course Black landmarks matter. Black people are not just Black people. We are Americans. We are the people who built this nation, so our history is second to none.”
“Landmark designations in marginalized and low-income communities are rare, fueled by the corrosive effects of time and lack of sustaining endowments. Just last year, the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a museum at the site of one of America’s first free black communities, had to launch a crowdfunding campaign to stave off closure. In a city of over 37,000 sites designated for landmark status, just 17 of New York’s landmarks are dedicated to abolitionist and Underground Railroad history, remnants of a resistance that helped over 3,000 fugitive enslaved people find freedom. Nationally, only 2% of the 95,000 entries on the National Register of Historic Places focus on the experience of Black Americans, according to The New Yorker (a figure the NRHP is now working to change).”
The East Wilson Historic District has been on the Register since 1988. Read the full article here.