Vick cemetery

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.
  • 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.

Lane Street Project: 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. (Odd Fellows cemetery is still nominally owned by the Odd Fellows, but is essentially abandoned.) 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.