Lane Street Project

Lane Street Project: a fern.

The heavy invasion of wisteria throughout Odd Fellows Cemetery has created a woodscape very different from the nearby one I roamed as a child. The forest floor is nearly sterile, completely lacking the diverse native flora you would expect to find in a North Carolina Inner Coastal Plain woodland (even a young one). I was surprised, then, to come across this little ebony spleenwort as we stripped a dense cascade of vines from a gum tree last weekend. 

I knew it wouldn’t tolerate being blasted by sunlight, so I went back to rescue it for transplant in my home garden. My shovel hit wisteria roots on every side, however, and I had to leave it.

Brushing back the leaf mold exposed the straps of root pinning this fern to the ground.

Lane Street Project: Maplewood vs. Vick, 1940.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Aerial photographs shot in 1940 show the stark difference in the design and upkeep of segregated Maplewood and Vick Cemeteries.

We see Maplewood, founded in 1876 (and since expanded northwest across Hill Street), laid out in an orderly grid. The circle of trees, since removed, at the center of the first eight sections marks the location of the city’s Confederate monument, which was unveiled in 1902. The gateway arch is southwest of the monument, at Woodard Street.

And here we see Vick Cemetery — plus Odd Fellows and Rountree — on a dirt road outside city limits and surrounded by piney woods and corn fields. Vick, founded in 1913, is at left and takes up about two-thirds of what looks like a single graveyard, but is in fact three. There is no internal grid, no clearly marked access paths, no uniform spacing of graves or family plots. Certainly no Spanish Revival gateways or monuments to heroic ancestors. Though the city had established Rest Haven Cemetery in 1933, Vick remained active until the early 1960s, and hundreds of people were buried there in the 1940s alone. As poorly as it compares to Maplewood, Vick Cemetery never looked this good again.

Lane Street Project: April 23 cleanup.

A small, but efficient, crew showed up for today’s cleanup at Odd Fellows, and we continued to make deep inroads into the tangle of privet and wisteria that enshroud the cemetery’s midsection.

To accommodate May holidays, Season 2’s final cleanup days are May 14 and 21. Please join us!

Beta Beta Beta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity was again there strong! Samuel H. Vick was a founding member of the chapter. I challenge other fraternities and fraternal organizations to match the Ques’ commitment to community service!

It was a beautiful day for making a difference.

The Senior Force cleared out the pile I discovered in January 2020 and featured in a recent post

Briggs Sherwood and Castonoble Hooks work to pull wisteria from a gum tree it is smothering.

The terrible beauty of wisteria.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2022.

Lane Street Project: how long?

The headline outraged me: “City budgets cemetery arch fix.” May I remind you — the city of Wilson established Vick Cemetery as an all-Black public cemetery in 1913, neglected it for most of the twentieth century, and finally stripped of its headstones in the 1990s. The city has no records of its burials, either by name or number. Four months ago, despite protests from some council members about the thirty thousand dollar cost, Wilson City Council agreed to fund ground-penetrating radar for Vick. To date, this project has not budged, as city officials continue to cavil about the city’s responsibility to its own cemetery.

And yet. Despite the Cemetery Commission’s recommendation to the contrary, the city now admits it has already budgeted for the $125,000 repair of the 100 year-old archway at the entrance of Maplewood Cemetery. As the Daily Times reported it: “Funding to replace the arch was included in the 2020-21 budget in a maintenance account, not as a specific project designated specifically for the arch,” said Rebecca Agner, the city of Wilson’s communications and marketing director. “While this method is acceptable from a budget perspective, it led to some miscommunication between departments about the project. As you can imagine with the number of facilities the city operates, there is a long list of maintenance projects each year, so the total maintenance budget was managed for the year without the cemetery arch being completed.”

What in the lack of transparency is this????

I am rarely in Wilson when Council meets, but yesterday I was, so: 

And I go busting down to City Hall ready to sign up for public comment. But this:

And thus, Wilson City Council was spared a piece of my mind about its prioritization of the repair of a decorative structure at Maplewood — a cemetery whose operations, by the way, for years have depended heavily on income derived from historically Black Rest Haven Cemetery, because for better or worse Black folk in Wilson bury, rather than cremate, their dead at a rate much higher than white people and overwhelmingly choose a public cemetery as the place for those burials — over the repair of the breaches of trust created by decades of damage and disrespect to actual graves at Vick.

For your consideration:

“Picture on right shows to entrance to Maplewood with Confederate memorial in background.” Wilson Daily Times, 14 August 1959. This is the arch that the city is spending $125,000 (in 2020 dollars, which might be double that now given inflation and supply chain woes) to fix. The background is still there, too.

The precious arch at Maplewood bears this inscription: 

In this garden of shrubs, flowers and grass lie the quiet ashes of our departed loved ones, in dreamless, protected peaceful sleep. 

Never mind that Vick Cemetery never had a grand gateway and was never a garden. (Nor Rest Haven, for that matter.) What devastates is that the sleep of East Wilson’s departed loved ones is neither peaceful nor protected.

How long will the City of Wilson continue to deprioritize and disrespect our dead?

Lane Street Project: a fervent request.

We have, at most, three more organized Season 2 cleanups at Odd Fellows Cemetery — April 23, May 14, and May 21. The heat and fecundity of summer, as well as the hazardous insect and reptile life, make working in the woods more difficult than we can comfortably invite volunteers to do. For these reasons, it is critical that we maximize our time and effort in the coming weeks.

Here’s Odd Fellows on a recent April morning. The Senior Force has been putting in extra work every week and, for the first time in decades, a fifty-foot swath inside the tree line has been cleared.

In February 2020, almost a year before Lane Street Project began, I discovered a pile of headstones well back in the woods, evidence of some misguided earlier cleanup. The pile was nestled just behind an immense thicket of privet and wisteria and could only be reached by circuitous approach. This past February, I expressed hope to Castonoble Hooks that we would be able to break through the thicket and open a direct path to the headstones.

The Senior Force did it.

Circled below, Bessie McGowan‘s headstone at the edge of the pile that includes my great-grandmother Rachel Barnes Taylor‘s. The Senior Force, anchored by brothers Cass and Will Hooks, Briggs Sherwood, and Glenn Wright, demolished a seemingly impenetrable hedge to expose the interior of Odd Fellows cemetery.

Here are Bessie McGowan’s marker and the Jurassic forest that has sprung to life behind it in the last month. Everything green you see is wisteria, an invasive vine that has largely choked off native plant species.

In January, I placed Rachel Taylor’s headstone upright against a stump.

Here it is yesterday. This is what we’re up against, folks, and we can’t do it without you.

Saturday’s going to be beautiful. Please lend a hand. Come for 30 minutes. Or three hours. Bring a hand pruner. A lopper. A rake. A lawnmower. Whatever you have. Or just yourself. If you can’t labor, come offer words of encouragement or bottles of water. Honor the ancestors. Build community. Save a sacred space.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2022.

Lane Street Project: wisteria, four ways.

It’s the season in which Odd Fellows Cemetery’s principal scourge is at its most charming, dripping shimmery lavender racemes. In two seasons, though, Lane Street Project volunteers have flushed the wisteria from the treetops, and its showy flowers now appear only at the edges of the woods. 

Removal of a few decades of leaf litter has exposed the dense lattice of wisteria that scores the forest floor above and below ground.

Now that the canopy’s been cleared, increased sunlight is spurring the rampant growth of young wisteria shoots. 

Toward the back of Odd Fellows, thick ropes of wisteria continue to strangle trees. 

Please consider joining us for a cemetery cleanup. The next two are scheduled for April 9 and 23. Thank you!