Vick cemetery

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: “There is no question … the city owns it.”

Thirty-one years ago this month, the City of Wilson acknowledged what a quick deed search could have told anyone — it owns Vick cemetery.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 February 1990.

The Cemetery Commission’s reaction, as reported here, was a long list of negatives focused on the expense of restoration and upkeep of Vick cemetery, with no comment recorded about duties owed (and neglected for decades) to the dead. 

(N.B.: The Cemetery Commission is not involved in the present upkeep of Vick Cemetery or the narrow strip at the front of Odd Fellows Cemetery. They are mowed, sprayed, etc., by the Public Works Department.)

Lane Street Project: the “why” of what we do.

This morning, while driving to her home, Dale C. Winstead noticed Lane Street Project volunteers working at Odd Fellows Cemetery. She stopped to ask what was going on, then left and came back. When she returned, she offered this testimony:

Ms. Winstead’s father Elijah Winstead Sr. passed away in 2002. Her grandmother, Annie Jenkins Winstead, passed in 1941. It is almost certain that Annie Winstead was buried in Vick cemetery, and her headstone was among those removed when the city cleared the entire burial ground in 1994-95. Though the markers were to be catalogued and stored, per an unconfirmed report from a former employee, after a few years the city’s Public Works Department decided it needed the space. The department contacted those relatives they could find and asked them to pick the markers within a certain time. Otherwise, they would be destroyed.

Were you or anyone you know contacted circa 1995-2000 and asked about retrieving headstone taken from Rountree cemetery (the name by which most people called all three cemeteries)? If so, please contact Lisa Y. Henderson at blackwideawake@gmail.com. Thank you.

——

On 14 March 1925, Marion Winstead, 22, of Edgecombe County, son of Jason and Hattie Winstead, married Annie Jenkins, 22, of Edgecombe County, daughter of Lizzie Jenkins, in Wilson County.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: at 604 Manchester, fertilizer plant laborer Marion Winstead, 29; wife Annie, 29; and children Elizabeth, 6, Elija, 4, Ollie M., 2, and Jason, 1.

In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: at 622 Wiggins, farm laborer Marion Winstead, 40; wife Annie, 40; and children Elizabeth, 16; Elijah, 14, Olie, 13, Jaison, 7, Robert, 5, Grace, 4, and Marion, 2.

Annie Winstead died 22 March 1941 at her home on Wiggins Street. Per her death certificate, she was born 16 June 1899 in Edgecombe County to Van and Lizzie Jenkins; was married to Marion Winstead; lived at 622 Wiggins Street; and was buried 24 March 1941 in Rountree cemetery. Dr. B.O. Barnes was the attending physician.

Sincere thanks to Dale C. Winstead for sharing your inspiration for volunteering with Lane Street Project and to Brittany N. Daniel for capturing her words. They have been posted with permission.

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.

——

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.

——

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: “City responsible for old cemetery”


Wilson Daily Times, 17 February 1990.

This op-ed piece ran in the Wilson Daily Times in February 1990, shortly after the city acknowledged its ownership of Vick cemetery.

A few notable passages:

  • “Although as many as 2,000 people may be buried there, only 30-some graves are marked …”  (Two thousand seems like a low estimate of the number of burials in Vick, and absolutely more than 30 graves were marked. In 1995, Wilson’s city manager was quoted estimating that there were approximately 200 marked graves and 75-100 “intact, legible” headstones.)
  • “Those persons buried beneath this littered and unkempt ground deserve the respect and dignity we would accord any deceased.”
  • “Insofar as possible, the Vick cemetery and the individual graves must be restored. The city can do no less for its deceased citizens.”
  • “Mobilizing volunteers in the community can get the cleanup off to a low-cost start. Civic clubs, Boy Scouts, church groups and other organizations could take pride in helping restore a piece of Wilson history.”
  • “Identifying and marking each grave may be impossible, but every identification that is historically and humanly possible is the duty of the city.”

Another four years passed before Wilson made serious effort to meet the challenge outlined in the Daily Times. Vick cemetery is no longer a dumping ground, but it still “bears little resemblance to a cemetery.” The graves were not restored, or even identified. Rather, they were pulled from the ground, stacked in storage for a few years, then discarded. No known record exists of the thousands of burials in Vick cemetery.

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. 

——

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.