volunteerism

Lane Street Project: May 1 and 15 and then a break.

Henry Tart’s obelisk early on a spring morning, April 2021.

First, if you’ve been to even one of Lane Street Project’s Odd Fellows Cemetery clean-ups, we thank you. Y’all are the real MVPs.

Now, if you haven’t, and you’ve been thinking about it, please come out tomorrow, May 1, or May 15 for our last clean-ups of Season 1. See the photo above? We need to cut back the green shoots to enable our defoliation crew to get in a good, effective spray. There are also plenty of vines to sever a little deeper into the woods and along the fence line, and pile of debris to discard.

Also, buy you a teeshirt!

Over the summer we’ll be planning and strategizing for Season 2, hoping to build on our successes, take lessons from our mistakes, and figure out ways to energize and engage the community around the important and perpetual work to be done here. (And how pay for all of it!) We’d really love to see more involvement by our local churches and civic and social organizations. Even if you can’t (or don’t want to) tramp around in the woods, there are myriad ways to support LSP’s mission. Please reach out in the Comments here or at lanestreetproject@gmail.com, and together we’ll figure out how you can help us make a difference!

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson.

Lane Street Project: views of progress.

I was stunned last week by the new growth in Odd Fellows Cemetery, but I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. In just four months of work, Lane Street Project volunteers have transformed this burial ground. 

The photo below was taken from the access path into the cemetery from Lane Street. Ben Mincey‘s yellow and green fire hydrant is visible at bottom right. The trees at the front edge of the clearing are festooned with wisteria clipped at head-height. Back in December, these vines tethered the trees to the ground, forming a nearly impenetrable screen. The Mincey grave markers were barely visible inside the tree line.

Likewise, the chainlink fence between Odd Fellows and Vick Cemeteries was completely shrouded, mostly in honeysuckle and privet.

At left below, the headstones of Walter and Nettie Foster. In recent years, Nettie Foster’s marker was completely engulfed, and wisteria tendrils were tapping at her husband’s. The light-colored stubble in the foreground is in the area has been maintained by the city; the brown (tinged with new green) beyond was in the woods until recently.  

Here is the Vick family plot in its current state, with Wiley Oates‘ monument in the background. Before LSP began work, only Irma Vick‘s headstone was visible, and it was in danger of being engulfed. (See the wisteria rebounding around its base?) I had found Daniel and Fannie Blount Vick‘s double headstone and Oates’ marker earlier, but they could be reached only with great difficulty. Again, the curtains of clipped veins dangling from trees yields a measure of the density of the vegetation.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2021.

Lane Street Project: spring has come.

I confess to some shock. Spring is relentless in eastern North Carolina; April is the scene of boundless vegetal fecundity. The green took my breath away.

Odd Fellows is fighting back.

The boundary between Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

The winter’s hard work is not undone, however. Though new sprigs of wisteria sprout from the stubs of vines, young trees have been thinned out, and the forbidding leading edge of solid woodland has retreated a few dozen yards. We are likely to halt organized clean-ups during the summer in order to avoid some of the hazards of wild woods and to focus on several related projects. Thus, your help in the next few weeks is even more critical to maintaining the progress we have made. Please join us April 24!

Henry Tart’s headstone, which was nearly invisible from just a few feet away just months ago, is now readily seen from the woodline.

If you or your group were not able to join the Lane Street Project this past winter, I hope you will make plans to do so in 2021-22. Many hands make light work, and our ancestors need you.

Lane Street Project: April clean-up schedule.

Finally — a warm community clean-up day!

Please come out to Odd Fellows Cemetery on April 10 and 24 and join your neighbors in the clean-up of three historic African-American cemeteries. All are welcome!

This month, we really need your help:

  • Pruning shrubs and limbing up hollies around the Vick Cemetery monument
  • Cutting wisteria stumps in Odd Fellows Cemetery close to the ground for later defoliation treatment
  • Clearing underbrush and removing trash
  • Recording GPS coordinates for each grave marker (email me at lanestreetproject@gmail.com if you’re interested in this task)

Please protect yourself on-site — masks required, boots and gloves strongly encouraged. 

As always, THANK YOU!

Lane Street Project: a change of schedule and an invitation.

This is wisteria. Its lovely lilac racemes are harbingers of spring and the Easter season. It is also a scourge, invading native landscapes, girdling trees, and smothering trees via dense networks of runners that criss-cross the woodland floor. Wisteria eradication is the greatest challenge to reclaiming Odd Fellows and Rountree Cemeteries, but our teams of volunteers have made unbelievable progress in just three months.

LSP volunteer days at Odd Fellows are normally the first and third Saturday. However, Easter is the first Sunday in April this year, and for that reason we are shifting to the 2nd and 4th Saturdays for the month. We’ll need all the help we can get as the weather warms up and privet, honeysuckle, and wisteria try once again to overwhelm the cemetery. We also need help with two side projects — the pruning of trees and shrubs around the monument in Vick cemetery, and application of defoliant chemicals at Odd Fellows.

If you’ve been thinking of coming out, please do — and bring a friend. If you’ve already been, please come back — and bring your sorority sisters, your lodge brothers, your motorcycle club, your soccer team, your usher board, your anybody!

As always, thank you!

Lane Street Project: B.H.M. Clean-Up testimony.

The community delivered another successful volunteer clean-up at Odd Fellows cemetery yesterday. I’ll let folk tell you about it.

Angie Hall stands near her finds.

Working toward the back of Odd Fellows, Angie Hall noticed several water-filled depressions. After clearing away vines and debris, she and another volunteer uncovered two headstones: “Today I did a thing. I volunteered to assist the Lane Street Project clearing out the old cemetery, and I discovered a few graves once my feet fell into a hole of water. Here I stand in front of two graves. I don’t know why I wanted to know more about who they were but the feeling of joy and accomplishment I felt was amazing. And today my grandma turned 80! What a blessing to be in the presence of my ancestors on this beautiful Saturday.”  

Joshua Robinson noticed that work was being done on more than one level: “Awesome experience, I am so happy to see such a project bring the community together. We were clearing tree limbs, vines, and other debris to find those lost to time, but we were also clearing the way for a better city, unity, and love!”
 
Julia Newton, who came to the Project from East Wilson’s Seeds of Hope community garden: “I spent some more time removing layers of wisteria roots from around the graves of Samuel and Annie Vick. It’s deeply humbling to do this work. This situation must exist in every community in the South. Thanks to everyone for their help and friendliness.”
 
Shaquanda King reflected on the impact of volunteering to improve her home community: “My cousin and I volunteered for the first time yesterday for the early morning. Was able to gain some knowledge and history from the overseers. It was an amazing experience for someone who was born and raised here.”
 
Janelle Booth Clevinger returned after helping make the January Clean-Up Kick-Off a success. She  encountered one of the cemetery’s vexing problems: “Another great afternoon spent with wonderful people! The best projects are grassroots projects, filled with people who are there for the right reasons! Thought I’d found an area full of tombstones, but they turned out to be strangely shaped pieces of concrete that resemble footings of some sort. We are thinking they may have been dumped there as trash. Leave it to me to find garbage.”
 
Castonoble Hooks, a key member of the Lane Street Project team: “Honored to be a part from the very start because I can see the progress firsthand. The removal of wisteria has opened up parts of this sacred burial site allowing the light of the sun to shine upon and bring honor again to our ancestors. Hands-on history, excited to see children black, white, and Hispanic working with fervor. This project, like no other, attracts the best of the best — a group as diverse as the country itself.”

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: Q’s & A’s — preliminary info.

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: I’m coming to the Clean-Up Kick-Off! What do I need to know?

A: First, Lane Street Project appreciates you!

Here are a few things to know before you arrive:

  • Masks and social distancing will be enforced at the Clean-Up Kick-Off. For real. Be safe!
  • Wear comfortable protective clothing – gloves, boots, long-sleeved outer garments.
  • Cleaning up abandoned cemeteries carries risks of injury, and you will be required to sign a waiver before you begin working.
  • At the beginning of each clean-up session, Lane Street Project volunteers will explain the history of the cemeteries and go over guidelines. 
  • To facilitate social distancing, you’ll be assigned a clean-up lane. 
  • Please bag all trash and cuttings and dispose of them in the bins provided. 
  • Here’s what to bring — and what not.
  • Here’s what to do if you find a headstone or other grave marker.
  • The atmosphere will be joyous and celebratory, but these are cemeteries — please be respectful.

Odd Fellows cemetery on a sunny December morning. Della Hines Barnes’ marble headstone inspired Lane Street Project’s logo.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.