Rountree cemetery

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: 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: a review.

It first started to come together Christmas Eve a year ago when I fought my way into the thicket of Odd Fellows cemetery. At the time, I didn’t even know its proper name. Shaken by what I found, I posted a quasi-manifesto that included this passage:

I confirm that I’m feeling pretty reactive right now, but here are my initial thoughts on next steps for the reclamation of this important African-American burial ground, reaffirmation of respect for our dead, and restoration of common decency:

  • If this account contains inaccuracies, I welcome correction by any authoritative source.
  • I restate my request for a copy of the survey prepared by PLT when Vick cemetery was cleared. A copy, if not the original, of this survey should be shared with Wilson Cemetery Commission and made available to descendants, genealogists, or other researchers as requested.
  • As, through the city’s actions, the locations of the graves in (A) have been obliterated, the city should map (A) and (B) with ground-penetrating radar and make the results available to the public.
  • If (C) is part of Vick cemetery, it is the city’s responsibility to maintain it, and it should do so immediately. The city should also survey and catalog the cemetery’s headstones, leave them in situ, and utilize ground-penetrating radar to determine the locations of additional graves.
  • If, as it appears, the city has no legal responsibility for (D) the Odd Fellows cemetery, I implore community groups to intervene to clean it up, survey it, and create a record of the identifiable graves remaining there.

And then the pandemic.

Ten days ago, though, the Lane Street Project regained its legs and is putting into place a 2021 action plan. As we begin, what’s the status of last year’s “next steps”? In bullet-point order:

  • No inaccuracies found.  (Or at least not by any “authoritative source.” I corrected and updated posts as I uncovered better information.)
  • The city’s eventual response to my records requests included PLT’s survey of the locations of graves at Vick. Apparently, neither PLT nor the city catalogued the gravestones removed from Vick, and those names are thus lost. 
  • This demand stands. 
  • (C) is Rountree cemetery. It does not belong to the city.
  • (D) is Odd Fellows cemetery. Lane Street Project has begun to take the steps listed and will announce a schedule of events and opportunities in early January 2021.

Lane Street Project: the work begins.

Before last week, the last sighting of Samuel Vick’s grave marker. Wilson Daily Times, 18 February 1989.

In less than a week, Lane Street Project has gone from an formless idea existing totally in my head (and this blog) to a committee of volunteers galvanized by our discovery of Sam Vick‘s gravestone. We held our first Zoom meeting last evening and, like that, The Project is up and running! Each of us came away with responsibilities and tasks to complete as we prepare to roll out a campaign to enlist public support and participation in preserving and restoring these historic burial grounds. Cultivating allies in city government is of paramount importance, but, with the current state of Vick Cemetery bearing witness to the City’s idea of cemetery preservation, we are not seeking to have the City take a lead in this effort. We are formulating requests for support and plans of action that will be presented in due time. In the meantime, please join our Facebook group LANE STREET PROJECT to see the work unfold!

SAVE BLACK SPACES.

Lane Street Project: Gray Pender, Louvenia Pender, and Lottie Marlow.

Tuesday’s clean-up netted two and a half intact additional gravestones — Gray Pender and his daughter Louvenia Pender and Lottie Marlow, whose name was hidden on the enshrouded side of the marker she shares with her husband Daniel Marlow. Gray and Louvenia Pender’s headstone were nearly buried under vines and leaf mulch within a few feet of one another. A large base (without a headstone) nearby suggests additional graves in what appears to be a Pender family plot. In addition, about 25 feet east, we found a small concrete marker carved with the initials B.E. along one edge.

  • Gray Pender and Louvenia Pender

Gray Pender born Feb 15 1861 died Aug 22 1928 Beloved father farewell

Louvenia dau of Gray & Katie Pender born Dec. 23, 1885 died July 4, 1908

We first met Gray Pender in 1877, when his grandfather Abram Farmer petitioned for guardianship after the death of Gray’s parents.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Rich’d Pender, 28, farm laborer; wife Sarah, 25; and sons Gray, 9, and George, 1.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, farmer Abram Farmer, 63; wife Rhoda, 45; step-children Charlotte, 16, Kenneth, 15, Fannie, 11, and Martha, 10; and grandchildren Gray Pender, 17, Gray Farmer, 19; and Thad, 13, and John Armstrong, 10.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Gray Pender, 37, farmer; wife Katie, 36; and children Richard [Richmond], 16, Louvenia, 13, Caroline, 10, Wilson, 6, Floyd, 4, and Jonah, 11 months.

Louvenia Pender died in 1908, prior to the issuance of death certificates in Wilson County.

In the 1910 census to Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Gray Pender, 47; wife Lillie, 35; and Eliza, 18 months, and Aniky, 4 months.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: laundress Katy Pender, 47, and children Richmond, 26, grocery store delivery man, Carrie, 18, Willie, 16, Floyd, 14, and Joseph, 10. [Apparently, Gray Pender and Katie Pender were permanently separated or divorced.]

Catie Pender died 16 December 1910 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 48 years old; was born in Wilson County to George and Carolina Woodard; worked washing and ironing; and was married. (Her cause of death: laryngitis and “change of life.”)

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Grey Pender, 58; wife Lily, 44; and children Elijah, 11, Annie, 10, Herman, 8, Rosetta, 9, Furney, 6, Dennis, 4, and Victoria, 2.

Grey Pender died 22 August 1928 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 67 years old; was born in Wilson County to Richmond and Sarah Pender; was married to Lillie Pender; and was a tenant farmer for Mrs. Mattie Williams.

  • Lottie Marlow

Lottie wife of Daniel Marlow born Oct 11 1874 died Feb 6 1916

D.J. Marlow, 28, of Wilson, married Lottie Battle, 23, of Wilson, daughter of Turner and Effie Battle, on 2 February 1898 at Mrs. F.A. Battle‘s. A.M.E. Zion minister H.H. Bingham performed the ceremony in the presence of W.A. Roberts, Charles H. Darden, and Linc[?] Mills.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Dan G. Marlow, 40; wife Lottie, 35; and Hattie May, 6.

Lottie Marlow died 6 February 1916 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 41 years old; was born Edgecombe County to Turner Battle and Effie Parker; was a widow; and was a factory hand. Effie Battle was informant.

  • B.E.

Photos 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.

Lane Street Project: save Black spaces.

If you’re in Wilson this Tuesday or Thursday, and have some spare time, and want to help right a wrong, please join me at Odd Fellows/Rountree cemeteries.

It won’t be a clean-up — the situation is too bad for that — but with hand pruners and loppers and spades, we can beat back the ridiculous edges and clear spaces around the existing stones. (And, with luck, find more.)

These are your people.

There are three gravemarkers in this photo, taken this morning in Odd Fellows cemetery. Ben Mincey’s fire hydrant is at right. His father Prince Mincey’s is in the middle, and his brother Oscar Mincey’s is at left.

I’ll be there Tuesday from about 10-1, and Thursday a bit longer. It’ll be cold, but sunny. BRING YOUR MASKS and a useful hand tool. I hope to see you there. 

Lane Street Project: historic cemetery registration.

Last week, I registered Rountree, Odd Fellows, Vick, and Oakdale Cemeteries as historic cemeteries with North Carolina’s Office of State Archaeology, Division of Archives and History. Registration does not offer protection per se, but does guarantee their placement on state maps of sites of archaeological interest.

As an example, the form for Vick Cemetery:

The map showing state archaelogical sites is not yet available on-line.