Vick cemetery

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. 

Lane Street Project: 10 September 2020.

10 September 2020, Wilson, North Carolina. Here lie the graves of thousands of African-American dead.

Odd Fellows Cemetery, sprayed with herbicide.

A garbage bag dumped inside the treeline at Odd Fellows.

Trash strewn at Vick Cemetery.

Rountree Cemetery fully festooned in late-summer foliage.

Again, Rountree Cemetery.

Odd Fellows. Samuel H. Vick, who died in 1948, is buried in that jungle.

Lane Street Project: aerial views, part 2.

In an earlier post, we saw aerial photographs depicting the decline of the Lane Street cemeteries from 1937 to 1948 to 1954 and 1964. An additional image, taken in 1971, completes the arc of ruin of these sacred spaces.

Vick Cemetery was completely forested, as was Rountree Cemetery. Odd Fellows appears marginally better kept, with a path still visible at its eastern edge. Five or so years later, when I discovered these cemeteries as a child riding a bicycle from her home in Bel Air Forrest, the vegetation was even thicker.

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Thanks again to  Will Corbett, GIS Coordinator, Wilson County Technology Services Department, for sharing these images.

Lane Street Project: Lane Street on a breezy winter morning.

Two minutes, 49 seconds, of Lane Street on a breezy winter morning.

Sandy Creek spilling from the culvert under Lane Street.

The road, walking southwest.

The high bank of Rountree cemetery with its crown of honeysuckle and privet and catbrier and blackberry bramble.

Across the road, the low bank marking the cemetery’s western half. Note the daffodils. Sandy Creek flows just behind the trees; the houses crouch in its flood plain.

Just past the ditch marking its boundary, the gravestones of Odd Fellows Cemetery hove into view.

Between the Dawson and Tate family plots, Irma Vick‘s leaning concrete marker is visible at the edge of the woods. Hers is the outlier of the Vick family plot, which is otherwise overgrown.

A remnant of the cemetery’s wall; I enter the old gateway.

The cemetery looks empty. It is not.

The two tall marble markers are Dave and Della Hines Barnes, from the back. Presumably, other members of the Barnes and Hines family lie in their marked plot, but no stones are visible.

The city erected the two pillars at the entrance to the parking lot. They are, inaccurately, engraved “Rountree/Vick.” The parking lot bears the scorch marks of a torched vehicle. It is rarely visited by anyone with good intention.

Vick cemetery as playground.

The monument and its towering shrubs.

Video shot by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2020.

Lane Street Project: the memorial at Vick cemetery.

I’ve been asked what the memorial at Vick Cemetery looks like.

There is a pale gray granite obelisk, perhaps twenty feet tall, atop a darker stone plinth seated in the center of a brick-paved circle. Hollies badly in need of trimming shelter the circle, and twin cherry trees flank openings on opposite sides. It’s barely visible from the street now, and in summer all these trees and bushes completely obscure the monument.

There is some irony to the poem embossed on a brass plaque on one side of the monument’s base. At least some of the dead of Vick cemetery would be known to more than God had the city not misplaced or discarded the key to cemetery survey or destroyed the remaining grave markers.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2020.

Lane Street Project: cemetery records request update, no. 5, the city’s response.

I have received the city’s response to my request for documents related to the removal and destruction of headstones from Vick cemetery, made under North Carolina’s Public Records Law.

My initial request to the Wilson Cemetery Commission was made 6 September 2019. (Thanks again to Heather Goff for her quick response.)

I followed up with letters to several city officials in October and November. The city clerk responded quickly to my first letter, providing copies of relevant city council minutes from 1990 to 1995. The city manager and city engineer did not respond at all, even to acknowledge receipt of my request.

On 30 December 2019, I sent a letter to the mayor of Wilson, the city manager, and all seven council members setting forth my concerns and my unanswered requests for information about Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries. At the behest of the city’s new mayor, Carlton Stevens, and council, city attorney James Cauley assumed responsibility for the search for responsive documents. I commend Mr. Cauley for his periodic updates on the status of the city’s response and for his candor concerning the paucity of records.

Here, in their entirety, are the documents I received.

(1) Purchase Order, dated 10 November 1994, for services by vendor PLT Construction, described in “Bid for improvements to S.H. Vick Cemetery.” The document’s right edge is cut off, but the amount the city paid was more than $139,000.

(2) A request for payment of balance due submitted by PLT Construction to the City of Wilson on 5 June 1995. Note the change item: “deduct for replacing headstones and portion of survey work.” PLT did not perform this work and thus credited the city $4500.

 

(3) A 21 June 1995 invoice for the amount set forth in PLT’s letter above.

(4) Page 1 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” Section 4A of this document is particularly interesting: “All existing graves whether marked by a grave marker or not shall be identified and located so as to be able to be re-located after completion of the work. A detailed survey may be needed in order to ensure that graves are marked in the correct location after completion of the work. A drawing showing all graves shall be prepared for future reference. All existing tombstones shall be removed, labeled, and stored until after all work is completed.” As we know, the grave markers were not relocated to the cemetery. They were stored for an indeterminate period of time, then destroyed.

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(5) Page 2 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” See particularly, Section E: “All graves identified and located prior to construction shall be re-located and marked. Graves shall be marked in one of two ways: (1) Tombstones removed from graves prior to construction shall be reset at the proper grave locations. (2) Any unmarked graves which were located shall be marked by means of a small metal marker as typically used in cemeteries. A map showing the locations of all graves shall be furnished to the City of Wilson.”

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(6) A plat map of the cemetery and surrounding properties, including Odd Fellows cemetery.

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(7) Another plat map prepared by F.T. Green and Associates [now Green Engineering]. Under the label “Odd Fellows Cemetery” is this note: “No deed on record. See D.B. 81, p. 196.”

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(8) This map, also prepared by F.T. Green, reveals with terrible clarity the reality of the smooth field that is now Vick cemetery. This map shows the location of every grave found on the site. You have to imagine the boundaries: Lane Street the top, woods to the right (concealing Odd Fellows cemetery) and bottom. The clear strip bisecting the map likely indicates an access lane. Contrary to claims made by public officials in the 1990s, Vick cemetery was laid out quite regularly. Graves were oriented parallel to the road (roughly northeast to southwest) in rows running perpendicular.

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Please look more closely. The resolution is awful, but these — hundreds, thousands of? — little marks are not just marks. They are numbers. Each grave was numbered as it surveyed, and the city cannot locate its copy of the key to these numbers. Nor, apparently, can Green Engineering.

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The takeaway: the city (or its contractors) surveyed and assigned each grave a number; prepared a map of those graves; removed the gravestones; graded the site; stored, then destroyed the gravestones; and lost the key that identified any of the graves that could be identified. 

I need to sit with this for a minute to process my sadness and anger and profound disappointment in the city’s handling of the “restoration and improvement” of a public cemetery founded during the darkest days of segregation and neglected through and after its fifty years as an active burial ground. The graves of the thousands of African-Americans buried in Vick cemetery remain in situ, the names of their dead lost.

Vick Cemetery, Christmas Eve 2019. 

Lane Street Project: cemeteries in the flood plain.

From the website of the Wilson County GIS/Mapping Office, a map showing the flood plain of Sandy Creek. As is obvious from the drifts of trash littering the low-lying rear of Rountree cemetery, much of this graveyard is regularly underwater. The same holds for the southeast quadrant of Odd Fellows cemetery and nearly all of the section of Rountree across Lane Street.

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Lane Street Project: the 1913 deed for Vick cemetery.

It’s hard to understand how Wilson ever thought to deny its responsibility for Vick cemetery. Here’s the deed for its $700 purchase of the 7.84 acre tract, whose description notes its adjacency to “the colored Odd Fellows Cemetery tract.” (As a reminder: the Vick cemetery is so-called because Samuel H. and Annie M. Vick sold it to the city of Wilson, not because they were buried there. The Vick family plot is, in fact, in Odd Fellows cemetery.)

Deed book 97, page 85, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Lane Street Project: a list of likely burials in Rountree, Vick, or Odd Fellows cemeteries.

This is a running annotated list of people who are believed, on the basis of family information, death certificates, obituaries or other sources, including my strong hunch, to be buried in Rountree, Vick or Odd Fellows cemeteries.

These contiguous cemeteries were known commonly and collectively as “Rountree cemetery” making it difficult to determine the exact location of each burial.  Though county residents were more likely to be buried in church or family cemeteries, nearly every African-American city resident who died between about 1910 and 1940 was buried in Rountree, Vick or Odd Fellows. (Those who weren’t were laid to rest in the “old” Colored Cemetery, also known as Oaklawn or Oakdale, or the Masonic cemetery, around the bend of Lane Street.) C.H. Darden & Sons (CHD) conducted most of the burials in these cemeteries and, until the 1940s, often referred to their location on death certificates only as “Wilson, N.C.” (Thankfully, the various undertaking businesses run by Columbus E. Artis specified Rountree cemetery (even if Vick or Odd Fellows was the actual burial ground.)

This list does not include burials listed in Joan Howell’s cemetery book or individuals for whom gravestones are intact. All death certificates noted were issued in Wilson County unless otherwise noted.

  • Artis, Fabie — Died 1930. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertaker C.E. Artis.
  • Barnes, Infant — Stillborn 1925 to Lewis Barnes and Annie Taylor, a “5th month fetus.” Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Barnes, Infant — Stillborn 7 January 1926 in Wilson to George Barnes and Pattie Hill. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertakers Artis & Freeman.
  • Battle, Paul — Died 1927. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Batts, John — Died 1927, age 60. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertaker Artis & Freeman.
  • Boykin, Nancy Staton — Died 1946, age 88. Death certificate: Roundtree cemetery, undertaker C.H. Darden & Sons.
  • Bowen, Infant — Stillborn 30 January 1926 in Wilson to Jack Bowen and Flossie Cobb. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertakers Artis & Freeman.
  • Bridgers, Infant Child — Died 1940, age 1 day. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, C.E. Artis.
  • Brooks, Unnamed — Stillborn 1927 to Setha Brooks and Frodia Williams. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Artis & Flanagan.
  • Bryant, Infant — Stillborn 3 February 1926 in Wilson to Norwood Bryant and Laura Dodson. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertakers Artis & Freeman.
  • Cannon, Infant — Stillborn 11 February 1926 in Wilson to Willie Cannon and Helen Harris. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertakers Artis & Freeman.
  • Clark, Sarah Hill — Died 1927, age 64. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertaker Artis & Freeman.
  • Coley, Infant — Stillborn 1927 to John Coley and Rosetta Harriss. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Artis & Flanagan.
  • Dale, Joe — Died 1925, age 62. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Daniel, Boisie — Died 1927, age 1. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Artis & Flanagan.
  • Davis, Infant — Stillborn 1927 to John Davis and Lula Jernigan. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Davis, Laura — Died 1925. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Dew, Alfred — Died 1925. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Edmundson, Infant — Died 1927. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, buried by family.
  • Edwards, Charlie — Died 1940. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, undertaker I.W. Lee, Fremont, N.C.
  • Edwards, Isiah — Died 1927, infant. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertaker Artis & Freeman.
  • Ethridge, Wiley — Died 1932, born in 1876. Death certificate: Roundtree, Darden.
  • Farmer, Mattie — Died 1938, age 28. Death certificate: Rountrees, C.E. Artis.
  • Foster, William Calvin — Died 1929, age 1. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, C.E. Artis.
  • Gay, Albert S., Sr. — Died 1932. Probably Rountree (family info). Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD.
  • Gill, Daniel — Died 1918, age 100. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD.
  • Guest, Infant — Died 1918. Death certificate: Rountrees Church.
  • Haggans, George — Died 1918. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, CHD.
  • Hawkins, Dorothy Lee — Died 1927, age 6. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Artis & Flanagan.
  • Henderson, Archie — Died 1930, age 4. Death certificate: Wilson Co., N.C., C.E. Artis. Family info.
  • Henderson, Jesse Jr. — Died 1929, age 5 months. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Wilson, N.C., C.E. Artis.
  • Hines, Perry — Died 1927, age 25. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Hinnant, Hercules H. — Died 1934, age 23. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD. Per his obituary, buried in Rountree cemetery.
  • Hobbs, George — Died 1927, age 59. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Artis & Flanagan.
  • Howell, William J. — Died 1939, age 67. Death certificate: Roundtree Cemetery, Hamilton Funeral Home. Per his obituary, buried in Rountree cemetery. (Howell was a member of Red Hot Hose Company, and may actually have been buried in Odd Fellows with Benjamin Mincey and other firemen.)
  • Jackson, Florence — Died 1925, age 7 months. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Jacobs, Infant — Stillborn 1928 to Roderick Taylor and Hattie Mae Jacobs. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Wilson, N.C., C.E. Artis.
  • Johnson, Infant — Stillborn 17 January 1926 in Wilson to William Johnson and Lula Willis. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertakers Artis & Freeman.
  • Jones, Edward — Died 1940. Death certificate: Rountree, CHD.
  • Jones, Infant — Stillborn 27 January 1926 in Wilson to Luther Jones and Lula Herring. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertakers Artis & Freeman.
  • Jones, Infant — Stillborn 1927 to Samuel Jones and Everline Harrell. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Jones, Sam, Sr. — Stillborn 1 February 1926 in Wilson. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Freeman.
  • Lassiter, Dempsey — Died 1946. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD.
  • Lassiter, Doris — Died 1943, age 5 months. Death certificate: Rountree’s, Hamilton Funeral Home.
  • Lucas, Infant. — Died 25 January 1940, premature. Death certificate: Rountrees, undertaker: family.
  • McCall, Willie Mae — Died 1927, age 11 months. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • McEachin, Margarette — Died 1927, age 6 months. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Artis & Flanagan.
  • McNeill, Susie — Died 1927, age 28. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Melvin, John — Died 1939. Buried in Rountree cemetery, per obituary.
  • Moore, Ellias — Died 1918, age 40. Death certificate: Roundtree cemetery.
  • Moore, James Henry — Died 1927, age 32. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Morgan, Sarah — Died 1927, age 16. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Murray, Emma — Died 1927, age 41. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Artis & Flanagan.
  • Perry, Lena — Died 1927, age 44. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, Artis & Flanagan.
  • Pitt, John Henry — Died 1927, age 3 months. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Plummer, William Henry — Died 1925, age 70. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Pope, Mary Ella — Died 1932, age 24 days. Death certificate: “Roundtree (Wilson),” Amerson-Boswell Company.
  • Richardson, Infant — Stillborn 30 January 1926 in Wilson to Lizzie A. Richardson. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Freeman.
  • Rountree, Jack — Likely, Odd Fellows. Daughter Delzela Rountree is buried in Odd Fellows.
  • Rountree, Lucile — Died 1930. Likely, Odd Fellows. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD. Daughter Delzela is buried in Odd Fellows.
  • Simmons, Robert James — Died 1927. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Simms, Silva — Died 1927. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Smith, Baby. Died 1940, aged 1 month. Death certificate: Rountrees, C.E. Artis.
  • Tate, Noah J. — Died 1926. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Taylor, Eliza — Died 1934, age 47. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., C.E. Artis. Probably Rountree or Vick, family info.
  • Taylor, Greeman — Died 1922, age 23. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD. Probably Rountree or Vick, family info.
  • Taylor, Hennie L. — Aged 1917, age 1. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., undertaker A.D. McGowan. Probably Rountree or Vick, family info.
  • Taylor, Henrietta G. — Died 1916, age 19. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., A.D. McGowan, undertaker. Probably Rountree or Vick, family info.
  • Taylor, Mike — Died 1927, age 68. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD. Probably Rountree or Vick, family info.
  • Taylor, Rachel — Died 1925, age 54. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD. Probably Rountree or Vick, family info.
  • Utley, Turner H. — Died 1928, age 52. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, C.E. Artis.
  • Vick, Annie M. Washington — Died 1952, age 81. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, Edwards Funeral Home. However, the Vick family plot was in Odd Fellows cemetery.
  • Vick, Samuel H. — Died 1946. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, Edwards Funeral Home. However, the Vick family plot was in Odd Fellows cemetery.
  • Vick, Viola — The Vick family plot was in Odd Fellows cemetery.
  • Ward, Helen — died 9 February 1926 in Wilson. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertakers Artis & Freeman.
  • Weathers, Cleola — Died 1927, age 22. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • White, Clara — Died 1927, age 25. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • White, Cora L. — Died 1927, age 1. Death certificate: Rountree cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.
  • Williams, Edgar — Died 1949, age 54. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, C.E. Artis.
  • Wilson, Fred — Died 1927, age 21. Death certificate: Rountree’s cemetery, undertaker Artis & Freeman.
  • Woodard, Lucy Simms — Died 1929, age about 48. Death certificate: Rountree Church Cemetery; Black Creek Undertaking Company. [Thank you, John Stembridge.]
  • Woods, Minnie A. — Died 1927. Death certificate: Rountrees cemetery, undertakers Artis & Flanagan.

Lane Street Project: a volume compiling burials in Rountree and Vick (and Rest Haven) cemeteries.

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.