Rountree cemetery

The deed for Rountree cemetery.

In early 1906, Rountree Missionary Baptist Church purchased part of the land that comprises part of Rountree cemetery. The deed is found in deed book 76, page 97, and is transcribed below. The deed describes a parcel only half the size of the current boundaries of Rountree’s lot. Was a later purchase consolidated?

——

North Carolina, Wilson County  }

This Deed, made this 24th day of February, A.D. 1906, by F.W. Barnes and wife Hattie B. Barnes, parties of the first part, to Charles Bullock, Jesse Barnes and William Crudup, Trustees of the Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, parties of the second part, WITNESSETH:

That the said parties of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of One Hundred Dollars to them in hand paid, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledge, have bargained and sold, and do by these presents convey unto the said parties of the second part, that certain lot of land lying and being situate in Wilson township, county and state aforesaid, adjoining the lands of J.C. Farrior, F.W. Barnes and the present church lot, above mentioned, and more particularly described as follows: Beginning in the middle of the canal [Sandy Creek], the present church lot corner, thence south 72 ½ west 270 feet to a stake, cornering, thence south 24 west 565 feet to the canal, cornering, thence up said canal to the beginning, containing one acre, more or less.

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD said real estate with the privileges and appurtenances thereunto belonging unto to the said parties of the second part and their successors in office in fee simple.

And the said F.W. Barnes for himself, his heirs and personal representatives do covenant to and with the said parties of the second part, their heirs, successors assigns: That he will forswear warrant and defend the title to said real estate against the lawful claim or claims of all other persons whomsoever.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, the said parties of the first part have hereunto set their hands and seals, the day and year first above written.   /s/ F.W. Barnes, M.B. Barnes

Witness: W.E. Warren

Toward identifying Rountree, Vick and Odd Fellows’ dead, no. 2.

This is a running annotated list of people whose headstones still stand in Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

  • Barnes, Dave — Died 1935, age 52. Odd Fellows. Death certificate lists burial site as Wilson, N.C. (Undertakers C.H. Darden and Sons handled most of the Odd Fellows burials on this list, and their practice was to refer to the cemetery by this broad location name. Darden and Sons’ burials are marked CHD below.)
  • Barnes, Della — Born 1858, died 1935. Odd Fellows. Death certificate lists burial site as Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Barnes, Nunnie — Born 1885, died 1921. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson County; CHD.
  • Best family — Odd Fellows. Large flat family marker.
  • Carter, C.L.Clarence L. Carter. Odd Fellows. Foot marker only, engraved with Odd Fellows triple link and Masonic square and compass. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Dawson family — Odd Fellows. Large upright family marker.
  • Dawson, L. — Lucy Hill Dawson. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Dawson, Virginia S. — Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Ellis, Buster — Born 1914, died 1924. Rountree. Located in a cluster of broken stones, including grandmother Clarkie Ellis. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Ellis, Clarkie — Born 1853; died illegible. Rountree. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Farrior, Henry W., Rev. — Born 1859; died 1937. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Hines, Walter S. — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Marlow, Daniel — Born 1870, died 1918. Rountree.
  • Mincy, Oscar — Odd Fellows.
  • Mincy, Prince — Died 1902, age 61. Odd Fellows.
  • Oats, Charles — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only. Death certificate: Roundtree cemetery; CHD.
  • Oats, Emma — Died 1908, age 40. Odd Fellows.
  • Pitt, Washington — Died 1917, age 38. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Robins, Daisy — Died 1914, age 38. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Rountree, Delzela (dau. of Jack and Lucile Rountree)– Born 1897, died 1914. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.
  • Spicer, Omega C. — Died 1945. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; Hamilton Funeral Home. [Listed in Howell volume.]
  • Tart, Henry — Born 1886, died 1919. Odd Fellows.
  • Tate family — Odd Fellows. Large upright family marker.
  • Tate, Hardy — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only, engraved with Odd Fellows triple links.
  • Taylor, H.B. — Odd Fellows. Foot marker only, engraved with triple links and square and compass.
  • Thomas, Charles S. — Died 1937. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.
  • Thomas, Sarah (wife of Charlie Thomas) — Odd Fellows.
  • Unknown — Died 1921, age 51. Odd Fellows.
  • Uzzell, Millie — Born 1872, died 1928. Rountree. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.; CHD.
  • Vick, Irma (dau. of S.H. and A.M. Vick) — Born 1905, died 1921. Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C.
  • White, Lucinda (wife of Geo. W. White) — Odd Fellows.
  • Williams, Louis — Odd Fellows.

Toward identifying Rountree, Vick and Odd Fellows’ dead, no. 1.

In 2015, culminating a years-long project headed by Joan L. Howell, the Wilson County Genealogical Society published Wilson County Cemeteries, Vol. V: The Two City-Owned African-American Cemeteries, containing alphabetical listings of 11,472 burials in Rest Haven cemetery and 650 burials in Rountree-Vick cemetery.

Howell’s book is an invaluable resource for Wilson County researchers and — as far as we know — the sole list of burials in Rountree-Vick. Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile to assess this compilation in the light of recent discoveries concerning these cemeteries.

Confronted with the empty expanse of the Rountree-Vick memorial ground, Howell undertook an exhaustive search of death certificates filed in the Wilson County registrar’s office, abstracting all that gave “Rountree cemetery,” “Vick cemetery,” or “paupers cemetery” as the place of burial. An examination of the resulting list makes clear that these burials were in Rountree, Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries, which are contiguous, but separately owned, graveyards. And the list is incomplete.

Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries were in use by the late 1800s, and Rountree by 1900. However, the overwhelming majority of burials listed in this volume date from the 1940s. (Rest Haven was the city’s primary black cemetery thereafter.) There are a smattering of burials from the late 1930s, the 1950s and even the 1960s. Because North Carolina did not require death certificates until 1914, and death certificates did not list burial locations with specificity until around World War II, the first forty or so years of burials in these cemeteries are difficult to chronicle.

So, how many people are buried in Vick, Rountree and Odd Fellows? A 1995 Wilson Daily Times article estimated 1300.  However, as at least 600 were laid to rest here in the 1940s alone, this is surely a vast understatement. We may never arrive at a definitive number, but we can augment Howell’s list. I will start with a list of people whose burial in Rountree, Vick or Odd Fellows is memorialized by an existing headstone and continue with a list of people whose burial place is noted in a published obituary. Do you know of a family member buried in one these cemeteries? If so, please let me know. If I find that they are not listed in Howell’s book, they will be added to a third list. Thanks for your help.

Interested in purchasing a copy of Howell’s volume?  You can order one at http://www.wcgs.org.

Cemetery update, no. 2: ownership.

You just have to know where to look.

After I figured out some basic navigation tricks, Wilson County’s fine GIS maps yielded quick answers to the questions of ownership of Vick, Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries. (One would think this information would be readily available to the city employees and officials from whom I requested it, but let’s keep moving forward.)

Here is the 7.84 acre Vick cemetery, deeded by Samuel H. Vick to the City of Wilson in 1913. (The deed is recorded at Deed Book 96, page 85, which is not available via the Register of Deeds’ website. I’ll get a copy when I next go home.) It is classified, appropriately, as a cemetery.

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Adjacent to the northeast is a 2.16 acre parcel owned by Odd Fellows Society since 1900. (There is no deed book reference listed.) It is classified — inappropriately, in my view — as a vacant lot belonging to a club or lodge.

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And here, sandwiched between the Odd Fellows Cemetery and Sandy Creek, is a two-acre parcel owned by Rountree Missionary Baptist Church since 1906. (Rountree’s deed is in Deed Book 76, page 97. The present-day church is the irregularly shaped building on the large lot at the northen corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and Lane Street.) This, too, incredibly, is described as a vacant lot belonging to a church.

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And to my shock, there’s also this. The rhombus across Lane Street, shown below, is part of the Rountree cemetery’s acreage. It is not my imagination that I saw graves on this side of the road when exploring as a child.

Here’s an aerial view, also from Wilson County GIS/Mapping Office. The big empty square is Vick cemetery (known popularly, and confusingly, as Rountree cemetery), which contains the remains of thousands of African Americans who died between the late 1800s and about 1965. I have no idea how many people are buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery next door, which was the burial ground of choice for much of Wilson’s black elite in the early 1900s. The city maintains the strip of this cemetery that fronts Lane Street. You can’t see it here, but a deep ditch marks the boundary between Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries. The eastern border of Rountree is Sandy Creek, a small, sluggish tributary of Hominy Swamp.

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Next step: contact Rountree Missionary Baptist Church (which will be a straightforward endeavor) and the Odd Fellows Society (which will not.) And remind the city that I’m still waiting for a response to my public records request.

Remembering Rountree’s dead.

My plans are still forming, but one thing I can do right now is call the names of the men and women whose headstones I found Christmas Eve morning.

  • Prince Mincey (ca. 1841-1902)

Prince Mincy Died Sept 14 1902 Aged 61 Years

Prince Mincey was the grandfather of MadisonBen” Mincey, whose efforts to clear Odd Fellows cemetery brought the plight of Rountree-Vick cemetery to the city’s attention in the late 1980s. His father, Benjamin Mincey, was an early leader of Wilson’s black fire company, the Red Hot Hose Company.

In the 1880 census of Speights Bridge township, Greene County: farmer Prince Minshew, 52; wife Susan, 35; and children Frank, 12, Henry, 11, and John, 3.

In the 1900 census of Wilson town, Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Prince Mensey, 60; wife Susan, 52; children Ben, 19, Emma, 19, and Oscar, 12; and niece Rosetta Mensey, 7.

  • Oscar Mincey

Oscar Mincy 

Oscar Mincey, son of Prince and Susan Suggs Mincey, was born about 1887. His small stone is a few feet from his father. It’s almost completely sunken, and his death date is unreadable. I have not found a death certificate for him, which suggests he died before the state required them in 1914.  Oscar’s brother Benjamin, the fireman, is presumably buried nearby, but there is no trace of his headstone.

  • Daniel Marlow (1870-1918)

Daniel Marlow Born Mar 1, 1870 Died July 5, 1918

In the 1910 census of town of Spring Hope, Mannings township, Nash County: Daniel Marlow, 42, brickmason, was one of five boarders living in the household of Anna Coppedge, 36, widower, laundress.

This tangle of vines will completely obscure this monument when it leafs out in spring.

  • Henry Tart

Henry Tart Born Apr. 11, 1886 Died May 13, 1919

Henry Tart‘s magnificent obelisk is the largest gravestone I found. Tart was the well-known proprietor of a transfer company. Read more about him here and here and here. Resting against the base of Tart’s monument was this broken marker:

Died Nov. 2, 1921, Age 51 Yrs., Gone to a brighter home, Where grief can not come.

  • Millie Uzzell

Come Ye Blessed Millie Uzzell Born 1872 Died Nov 26 1929 She is gone but not forgotten At rest

I have not been able to find additional information about Uzzell.

  • Best

This marker suggests the burial of several members of the Best family, but no individual gravestones are visible.

  • Washington Pitt

Washington Pitt Died May 11, 1917 Age 38 Years

Washington Pitt, 21, and Cometa Hill, 18, son of Solomon Hill, were married 26 December 1904 at Solomon Hill’s. Hilliard Ellis applied for the license, and Rev. Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony.

In the 1908 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pitt Washington horseshoer h Lee cor Deans

On 29 June 1910, Washington Pitt, 27, married Lula Best, 20, in Wilson. Rev. Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Ora Bunch, Walter A. Maynor and Morris Ellis.

In the 1912 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pitts Washington blacksmith h Vance nr Reid

In the 1916 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pitt Washington blacksmith h 805 E Vance

Washington Pitts died 11 May 1917 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 March 1886 in South Carolina to Wright Pitts and Amanda Wyatt; was a widower; was a horse shoer; and was buried in “Wilson.” Informant was Lucinda Pitts.

  • Louis Williams

Probably, in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Fred Owens, 32, and wife Lula, 29, and boarder Lewis Williams, 52, widower, a house carpenter.

  • Buster Ellis

Buster Ellir Was Born June 17, 1914 Died July 17, 1924

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on New Stantonsburg Road, farmer Reuben Simms, 21; grandmother Clarkie Ellis, 65, widower; aunts Cherry, 24, Jemima, 25, and Henrietta Ellis, 30; nieces Lucy, 12, and Mamie, 10; and nephew Buster, 7.

Buster Ellis died 17 July 1924 in Gardners township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 12 years old; was born in Wilson County to Lofton Harriss and Cherry Ellis; was a schoolboy; and died of “tuberculosis of hip; dislocation of hip caused by fall from bicycle.” Ruben Simms was informant.

  • Clarky Ellis

Clarky Ellies was born 1853 Died July [illegible]

Clarkie Atkinson Ellis was born enslaved.

In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Reuben Ellis, 34, farm laborer; wife Clarkey, 22; and daughter Jane Grant, 1.

In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Rubin Ellis, 54; wife Clarky, 36; and children Jane, 10, Jonah, 8, Sherard, 7, William, 6, Rubin, 5, George, 4, and Cansy, 4 months.

In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Riubin Farmer, 70; wife Clarky U., 57; children Kansas, 22, Allen, 16, Henrietta, 15, Gemima, 13, Cherry, 12, Hardy, 10, and Benjamin N., 9; and grandchildren Plumer, 16, and Henrietta, 5 months; and Jane Bynum, 66, widow.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, farmer Rheubin Ellis, 76; wife Clarkie Ellis, 72; daughters Henrietta, 23, Joemima, 22, and Cherrie Ellis, 19; and grandchildren Annie, 14, Ashley, 12, Rheubin, 11, and Lucy, 11 months. [Ashley and Reuben’s surname was Simms.]

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on New Stantonsburg Road, farmer Reuben Simms, 21; grandmother Clarkie Ellis, 65, widower; aunts Cherry, 24, Jemima, 25, and Henrietta Ellis, 30; nieces Lucy, 12, and Mamie, 10; and nephew Buster, 7.

Clarky Ellis died 9 July 1923 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 75 years old; was the widow of Rubin Ellis; had been a farmer; and had been born in Johnston County to Lewis Adkinson and Rosa Adkinson. Rubin Ellis [Jr.] was informant.

The broken pile of Ellis family headstones:

  • H.B. Taylor

This is not the grave of Rev. Halley B. Taylor. Beyond that, I cannot identify it.

  • Daisy Robins

Daisy Robins Died May 17, 1914 Age 38 Years

Daisy Robins died 17 May 1914 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 38 years old; was married; was born in Newberry, South Carolina, to Morton Pitt and Harrett Jones; and was buried in “Wilson.” Washington Pitt was informant.

The vine stretching across the base of this stone is slowly toppling it backwards.

  • Collapsed graves

They are difficult to see in photographs, but these woods are pitted with depressions made by collapsed graves, like these:

  • Broken stones

Broken headstones and foot markers, like this one near the fence bordering the cleared field, litter the forest floor.

All photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2019.

The state of Rountree, Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

The grave of Millie Uzzell (1872-1928).

This was not what I expected.

First, a recap:

  • The cemetery generally known as Rountree (after Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, though Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries are contiguous) began receiving burials of African-Americans around 1890. [UPDATE: Though it is accurate to say that this group of cemeteries is known collectively as “Rountree,” the cemetery I have been calling “Rountree” is correctly called the Vick cemetery. Corrections have been made throughout this post. See below.]
  • In 1913, Samuel Vick deeded the Vick cemetery to the city of Wilson, which commenced 80 years of neglect. (The ownership of the old Odd Fellows cemetery is unclear.) The city’s Cemetery Commission, which maintains (historically white) Maplewood and (historically black) Rest Haven cemeteries, has only a handful of records of Rountree or Vick burials, per response to my Public Records Law request. (Sam Vick himself, by the way, is buried here, but his grave is either unmarked or, more likely, the stone has been lost — as have those of a dozen other Vicks I would expect to have been interred here.)
  • The cemetery was active into the early 1960s, but abandoned soon after. There were public appeals for help with maintenance as early as 1967.
  • By the mid-1970s, the entire cemetery was overgrown.
  • Sporadically, private citizens attempted to clear the grounds, including Ben Mincey, who was determined to honor his parents’ burial sites.
  • In late 1994, Wilson City Council awarded a contract to PLT Construction Company to “restore” the cemetery. In a 29 August 1995 Wilson Daily Times article, city manager Ed Wyatt stated that Rountree Cemetery contained approximately 200 marked graves and 75-100 “intact, legible” headstones. PLT would survey and record the locations of gravesites prior to clearing and grading the cemetery site, and the headstones would be stored by the city’s public works division. (The city would then erect a single monument to memorialize Rountree’s dead.) I repeat: in 1995, the city leveled a public cemetery and covered the graves of many hundreds, and more likely some thousands, of its citizens. I assume council ran this action by the city’s attorney, but it certainly seems to fall afoul of (current) Article 22 of North Carolina Laws and Statutes Regarding Cemeteries:

§ 14-149. Desecrating, plowing over or covering up graves; desecrating human remains.

(a) It is a Class I felony, without authorization of law or the consent of the surviving spouse or next of kin of the deceased, to knowingly and willfully:

(1) Open, disturb, destroy, remove, vandalize or desecrate any casket or other repository of any human remains, by any means including plowing under, tearing up, covering over or otherwise obliterating or removing any grave or any portion thereof.

(2) Take away, disturb, vandalize, destroy, tamper with, or deface any tombstone, headstone, monument, grave marker, grave ornamentation, or grave artifacts erected or placed within any cemetery to designate the place where human remains are interred or to preserve and perpetuate the memory and the name of any person. This subdivision shall not apply to the ordinary maintenance and care of a cemetery.

  • In October and November 2019, I sent letters to several city officers and department heads (and PLT), requesting a copy of the survey and any records related to the removal and storage of the headstones. Only the city clerk responded — to provide copies of council minutes from the early 1990s. To date, I do not know if the survey was ever done or if copies of it exist. Without any record of the locations of graves, or the names on the surviving headstones, the city has essentially created a potter’s field.

This brings us to late last week.

Through a reliable back-channel source, I learned that after several years the Public Works Department sent letters to next-of-kin (where it could determine them) and published a notice in the Daily Times requesting family members to retrieve their kin’s headstones by a certain date. A few people responded. The remaining headstones were destroyed. (See Article 22, Section 14-149(a)(2), above.)

This morning, I drove over to Vick cemetery to look around and contemplate my next move.

This is what the cleared acreage looks like. Again, keep in mind that there are graves beneath this bland expanse:

Here’s what the remaining graves look like. This little section is subject to some heavy-handed upkeep that results in fewer and fewer standing stones with my every visit. The two large monuments in the middle distance mark the graves of Dave and Della Hines Barnes, the (step)father and mother of Walter Hines, William Hines and Dr. B.O. Barnes.

I walked along the edge of this cleared area, looking for a small headstone I’d noticed once before. The floor of the woods here is a thicket of greenbriers and wild blackberry and saplings and springy vines and is nearly impassable in summer. Without so much as a hand pruner, even with winter’s bare branches, I had to fight my way in.

I found it: Prince Mincy Died Sept 14 1902 Aged 61 years. And nearby: Oscar Mincey. The irony. For all that Ben Mincey did to keep these cemeteries clear to honor his forebears, they’re still lying in the woods.

A minute for the lay of the land:

(A) The grassy area is the seven-acre parcel the city cleared and graded in 1995. The dotted line marks a chain-link fence. (B) The small area in which several headstones stand in bare earth. It is regularly scraped of all plant growth and the trash that people continually dump there. (C) Thickly wooded area east of (B). The short white line marks a ditch between (B) and this section. (D) Another thickly wooded section south and behind (B).

I continued along the edge of the woods, peering into the brush. As I stood on the lip of the ditch that marks the clear area’s eastern boundary, I was startled to spot the pale gray of an obelisk monument looming about 50 feet away. I crossed the ditch and plunged into (C), briers snatching at my socks and twigs catching my high bun. Suffice to say, Millie Uzzell and Daniel Marlow‘s stones are not the only ones I found, but that’s another post.

I clawed my way back out and entered (D) near its western edge. More headstones, including a stately marker over Henry Tart‘s grave.

What was going on here? If the city cleared Vick’s graves in order to create a perpetually maintained memorial, why were all these headstones still standing in the woods? While drafting this post, I realized that (D), site of the Tart and Mincey graves, is likely the old Odd Fellows cemetery, which the city expressly disavowed responsibility for in the late 1980s. The Odd Fellows lodge has been defunct for decades, and no one has shown this cemetery love since Ben Mincey.

What about (C), then? The headstones and collapsed graves that dot this section attest to the density of burials here. This is logically part of the former Rountree cemetery, for which the city has acknowledged responsibility. [Update: on 1 March 1990, city council denied ownership of Rountree cemetery.]

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 headstone, 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.

UPDATE, 12/30/2019: In reviewing city council minutes from 1 March 1990, I found this: “The Mayor again recognized Mr. Charles Hines. Mr. Hines asked whether the Rountree Cemetery located on Lane Street belonged to the City. Council indicated that it did not, but the Vick Cemetery next to it did.” I am seeking clarification from city officials, but if this is the case, (1) the cemetery I have referred to as “Rountree-Vick” or “Rountree” is in fact the Vick cemetery and (2) clean up of the graves in (C) will likely require community effort. I will edit my posts to clarify the name of the cemetery.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2019, except aerial image, courtesy of Google Maps.

Round 2: the search for Rountree’s lost gravestones.

Round 2 in the quest to locate the gravestones removed from Rountree Cemetery in 1995 included letters sent on October 2 and 3 to the City Manager, the City Clerk, the City Engineer, and PLT Construction, the company who cleared the property.

I received a response via email today from the City Clerk. It was disappointing. (Though I appreciate her prompt attention.) She attached copies of all “the information the City has in its records for Roundtree [sic] Cemetery,” which consists of passages in a handful of city council minutes between 1990 and 1995. The City, apparently, has not retained a copy of the survey or other record of grave locations at Rountree. Nor, it seems, was there any official discussion of the storage and/or disposal of the surviving gravestones in 1995 or any time since.

The most interesting (if not enlightening) discussions about the cemetery occurred in the minutes of 2 June and 25 July 1994.

On 2 June, in pertinent part:

“The mayor [Bruce Rose] called on the audience for anyone wishing to address Council, and recognized former mayor Ralph El Ramey, 904 West Lee Street. … Mr. El Ramey said $200,000 for the restoration of the Vick cemetery, and he was certainly in favor of getting it in first class shape, seemed to be an exorbitant amount of money; and he would like to make an offer that the City give him $100,000 and he would get it cleaned up.”

“Councilmember [Gwendolyn] Burton stated that Earl Bradbury was on the Cemetery Commission at the time when Council and he argued back and forth about the ownership of the Vick cemetery; and it was concurred at that time the City did in fact own the cemetery. She reminded Mr. El Ramey that he and she were serving on Council when the bids came in at $276,000 for the restoration of that cemetery; and that, at Council’s direction, staff sprayed herbicides to reduce potential restoration costs.”

“Mr. El Ramey asked whether convicted people with community service time could be used to clean up the cemetery.”

“Deputy City Manager [Charles W.] Pittman said $200,000 was an estimate based on a more recent proposal; that $168,000 was the low bid about three and one-half years ago; that it was a lot more involved than just going in and clearing eight acres of grass and covering it with grass; that the graves should be properly marked; that certain rights goes along with cemeteries; the City must ensure those rights are protected; and that bids received must be brought back to Council for action.”

“Councilmember [C. Jerry] Williams said some of the cost for the restoration of the Vick cemetery involved work without the use of heavy equipment which might disturb the graves, and making sure headstones and markings are placed/replaced in their correct locations. He noted the actual cutting of trees and mowing of grass is only part of the entire process, and it was hard to find people who are interested in taking the project.”

“Councilmember [Avant P.] Coleman questioned when the Vick Cemetery was acquired by the City. The City Manager indicated it was in the early 1900s. Councilmember Coleman should be committed to fulfilling its obligations to all cemeteries; Council should consider what it would have cost if it had been maintained since its acquisition; that a lot of money was saved by forgetting the City owned it; and the City should be concerned about it and proud of all its cemeteries.”

On 25 July:

Vick Cemetery Restoration. Councilmember [Steven A.] Stancil said he would like to restore the cemetery, but that Council allow staff to look at it and only use $50,000 this year by using the unemployed for manual labor the first year.”

“Councilmember Coleman stated Council should not limit the staff to $50,000; that it would have cost the City a lot more money if the City had acknowledged the fact that it owned the cemetery and had maintained it all these years; and that it was a disgrace to not have restored it sooner.”

“Deputy City Manager Pittman stressed the importance of the work that needed to be done; that a responsible person or persons be employed to locate and properly mark the graves; that staff had no intentions of spending any more money than necessary to properly restore the cemetery; that it would be difficult to find someone willing to volunteer to do the work; and that, because of the scope of the work involved, it was necessary to request and receive bids before the City could give Council a cost figure. He said the $200,000 appropriated in the budget was an estimated based on bids received several years ago, which was in the vicinity of $190,000 to $200,000.”

And finally, on 3 November 1994, City Council awarded the job to PLT Construction:

“Councilmember [Robert L.] Thaxton moved that the bid be awarded to PLT Construction Company, low bidder meeting specifications, for the total project cost of $139,750. He stated that a lot of people do not know what is going on with the Vick Cemetery; that this is an old cemetery which was deeded to the city many years ago; and that plans are underway to improve this cemetery so that it can be maintained in the future. Motion was seconded by Councilmember Burton.”

“The City Manager said $200,000 was budgeted for this project; that he was pleased to see bids come in under the budgeted amount; that the next low bid was $48,750 higher than PLT’s; and that city staff is satisfied the contractor will do what is required to bring the Vick Cemetery up to par.”

“Councilmember [James M.] Johnson said that he had a problem with relatives letting their families’ graves being left in as shoddy a condition as they are now; that he was in favor of getting the Vick Cemetery improved, but, morally, he was going to vote against it, as a message to those family members who had loved ones buried there.”

“Councilmember Burton stated several family members did come before City Council and begged and pleaded for 15 years or more that the city restore and maintain the cemetery; that a man tried to maintain it by himself but could not continue to do so; and that the city was asked repeatedly to do something about its condition.”

“The mayor called for a vote on the motion to award the bid to PLT Construction Company for the restoration of the S.H. Vick Cemetery. Councilmembers Burton, [Willie J.] Pitt, Thaxton and Williams voted aye. Councilmembers Johnson and Stancil voted nay. The motion carried by a vote of four to two.”

And that, pretty much, was it.

I await, with low expectations, responses from the City Manager and City Engineer. In the meantime, it’s on to phase 3, in which I contact elected city officials in office during and since the 1990s concerning their recollections of the storage and/or disposal of the cemetery’s headstones.

The search for Rountree’s lost gravestones.

The first net thrown, unfortunately, has come up empty.

I am on a quest to find out what happened to the gravestones removed from Rountree cemetery when it was cleared in 1995. Wilson Cemetery Commission’s Heather Goff called me today in response to the letter below. Ms. Goff, hired long after Rountree was cleared, has no personal knowledge of the whereabouts of the stones and could find no records among the Commission’s holdings. (In response to the first paragraph of the request, she generously offered to furnish a copy of Joan Howell’s Wilson County Cemeteries, Volume V: Rest Haven and Rountree/ Vick Cemetery, but I already have it.) I appreciate her prompt response.

So, it’s on to the next round of public records request letters, which will be addressed to the current City Manager, City Clerk and City Engineer.

The obituary of Charles Oats.

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Wilson Daily Times, 16 July 1941.

Incredibly, the grave markers of Charles Oats and his wife Emma Oats are among the few that remain at Rountree cemetery. Oats was an employee of C.H. Darden and Sons Funeral Home.

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In the 1870 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Albert Oates, 40; wife Elizabeth, 30; and children Ferrebee, 10, and Charly, 3.

In the 1880 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: Albert Oates, 51; wife Bettie, 34; and children Charles, 13, Turner, 11, Adam, 9, and Willie, 3.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer Charles Oates, 34; wife Emma, 30; and children Willie, 11, Fannie, 9, Annie, 8, Effie, 5, and Queen Elsie, 4.

On 9 August 1916, Charles Oats, 53, applied for a license to marry Lou Woodard, 48. It was never returned for registration.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on 119 Ash Street, laborer Charlie Oats, 52; wife Lilla, 42; and step-children Lizzie, 24, and Elmira Woodard, 15.

On 6 December 1920, Fannie McCullers died in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 32 years old; married to Andrew McCullers; lived on Ash Street; and was born in Wilson County to Charley Oates of Edgecombe County and Emma Williams of Wilson County.

On 3 February 1921, Matthew Smith of Greene County married Annie Edmundson, 30, of Wilson, daughter of Charles and Emma Oats. A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward performed the ceremony in the presence of James Debury, Charles Thomas and Richard Green.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 203 Stantonsburg, rented for $24/month, Charlie Oats, 67, undertaking establishment laborer; wife Emma, 53; daughter Almira, 25; and mother Betsie, 92.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Jeff Benjamin, 41, bricklayer; wife Marie, 26, tobacco factory laborer; and lodger Charlie Oats, 75, widower, undertaker shop laborer.

Charles Oats died 13 July 1941 at his home at 112 South Vick Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 September 1873 in Edgecombe County to Albert Oats and Bessie Mercer; was widowed; and was an undertakers assistant.

Rountree cemetery, revisited.

We visited the remains of Rountree, Vick and Odd Fellows cemetery here and here. In the photo below, the arrow indicates the grove that surrounds the memorial plinth and obelisk erected in Vick cemetery by the city in 1996. The grassy area? THE CEMETERY. Denuded of forty years of overgrowth and nearly a century of grave markers, filled, leveled and sown. There were no disinterments or removals. The graves are still there (and probably in the woods beyond, too).

In 1989-90, Wilson City Council wrestled with the question of its responsibility to Rountree after discovering that the city owned the property. In a 10 January 1990 Daily Times article, “Cemetery income down, costs up,” Cemetery Commission Chairman Earl Bradbury “described the small 100-foot by 140-foot cemetery as a jungle.” Jungle it may have been, but it was a lot bigger than the quarter-acre he imagined.

Lane Street was a dirt road well into the 1970s. When I was a child, we sometimes rode our bikes over to peer into the woods at gravestones tilting and toppled in the leaf litters. I distinctly remember the long edge of a vault cover exposed in the weeds at the edge of the road, near the Y below. Right now, at X, a few markers remain visible inside the tree line.

The last burials at Rountree and Vick took place in the early 1960s. By 1967, there was a problem. With abundant heat and humidity, an abandoned Southern landscape is fecund ground, and “growing like a weed” is not a simile. Kudzu had not yet arrived in eastern North Carolina, but catbrier and poison ivy and broomsedge, followed quickly by sumacs, sweetgums and pines, make quick work of an untended lot. Worse, there was unchecked dumping. (Note the collective designation of all the cemeteries as “Rountree.” This is the name used by most people.)

 Wilson Daily Times, 10 June 1967.

The following spring, just as the weeds were flexing to spring to new heights, this appeal to the public appeared in the Times. “Come on out and do your part,” it implored. (“Persons interested”? There was probably not a black person in Wilson at the time, me included, that didn’t have someone buried at Rountree.)

Wilson Daily Times, 3 March 1968.

Less than ten years later, my friends and I were telling ghost stories as we cycled past woods dotted with lichen-flecked headstones. A dozen or so years after that, the Daily Times‘ 18 February 1989 article about Ben Mincey Jr.‘s efforts to honor his parents’ graves kickstarted the city’s reckoning with the travesty of Rountree. These photographs accompanied the piece.

So, having cleared the cemetery and raised a memorial, where are the headstones the city removed in 1995?

Top photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2019; aerial photo courtesy of Google Map.