Volunteers welcome for MLK cemetery cleanup | The Wilson Times
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MLK DAY OF SERVICE

Volunteers welcome for MLK cemetery cleanup

Posted on January 9, 2022

Updated on January 16, 2022

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Volunteers uncovered Spanish American War veteran Willie Gay’s grave while cleaning Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery last year.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Volunteers uncovered Spanish American War veteran Willie Gay’s grave while cleaning Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery last year.

One of many damaged gravestones is shown at Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

One of many damaged gravestones is shown at Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Vines and overgrowth surround Millie Uzzell’s grave marker in Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Vines and overgrowth surround Millie Uzzell’s grave marker in Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.

A nearly impenetrable wall of vines still remains in parts of Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

A nearly impenetrable wall of vines still remains in parts of Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Washington Pitts’ grave marker is among those knocked over and covered with growth in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Washington Pitts’ grave marker is among those knocked over and covered with growth in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

The grave of prominent Wilson resident Samuel Vick is among those discovered last year at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

The grave of prominent Wilson resident Samuel Vick is among those discovered last year at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Volunteers uncovered Spanish American War veteran Willie Gay’s grave while cleaning Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery last year.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Volunteers uncovered Spanish American War veteran Willie Gay’s grave while cleaning Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery last year.

One of many damaged gravestones is shown at Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

One of many damaged gravestones is shown at Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.

One of many damaged gravestones is shown at Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.
Vines and overgrowth surround Millie Uzzell’s grave marker in Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.
A nearly impenetrable wall of vines still remains in parts of Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.
Washington Pitts’ grave marker is among those knocked over and covered with growth in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
The grave of prominent Wilson resident Samuel Vick is among those discovered last year at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
Volunteers uncovered Spanish American War veteran Willie Gay’s grave while cleaning Wilson’s Odd Fellows Cemetery last year.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7818

Volunteers armed with loppers, pruners, rakes and elbow grease will return to African American cemeteries at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 17, as participants celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with a day of service dedicated to finding and restoring Wilson gravesites.

The Lane Street Project grew from historian Lisa Y. Henderson’s Black Wide Awake blog as she explored the history and current status of the Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries on the former Lane Street, now renamed Bishop L.N. Forbes Street.

In December 2020, Henderson sought help from anyone willing to help clean the overgrown cemeteries.

A large group of volunteers descended on the site for an informal cleanup on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend last year.

“Prior to December of 2020, Odd Fellows Cemetery was impenetrable,” Henderson said. “You had to cut your way into the tree line. There was wisteria and greenbrier and honeysuckle and all manner of overgrowth. Within the four months that the Lane Street Project last year was actively cleaning up, it’s now open. You can see about halfway back into the cemetery.”

Workers uncovered at least 30 headstones in the woods.

“We cleared the fence that separates Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries. We hauled out dumpsters and dumpsters of debris, or clippings of fallen trees. It is a totally different place now,” Henderson said. “If you have never been there, you might still think, ‘Wow, this still looks pretty crazy.’ But it’s really night and day. By the end of the cleanup season, we were able to get an application of the defoliant to help retard the growth of the wisteria, which is the main invasive species that has overtaken the cemetery.”

Along the way, the workers were able to uncover Samuel Vick’s grave.

“Samuel Vick, who is the namesake of Sam Vick Elementary School, during his lifetime was a businessman, he was a politician, he was an educator, he was a church leader and he was a millionaire at one point,” Henderson said. “He was the most politically influential African American in Wilson history until probably G.K. Butterfield Jr. Certainly in the first half of the 20th century, he was the most influential.”

Henderson said volunteers’ participation through the winter months amazed her.

“Beyond the tangible impact, there was just the bringing together of so many groups across Wilson’s community,” Henderson said. “It was multiracial, multiethnic, multi-generational, people of different faiths. People came from out of out of town. Everybody just came together to do some good. I think particularly on the heels of 2020, it was really a healing space.”

Visit Henderson’s Black Wide Awake blog at https://afamwilsonnc.com for more information on this year’s cemetery cleanups.

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