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In The News

CITY LAUNCHES WEBSITE ON UNITY CEMETERY PROJECT

Rocky Mount Telegram l by William F. West l February 12, 2022

 

People wanting to know more about Unity Cemetery and the efforts to restore and preserve the historically Black burial ground off East Grand Avenue in the eastern part of the city now have a go-to online link.

 

That link, www.unitycemeterync.com, provides the story of Unity Cemetery, with a timeline and with a collection of present-day snapshots of the location. That link also provides contact information for what is being called the Unity Cemetery Restoration and Preservation Project.

 

FIND-A-GRAVE VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH

June 30, 2021

Congratulations to Nadia Orton our featured volunteer of the month for June, 2021! She’s been documenting mostly African-American cemeteries in the Tidewater region of Virginia and also throughout North Carolina. She’s also made great strides in documenting the headstones for U.S. Colored Troops in those areas as well as Maryland, Georgia, and South Carolina. She posts about this on her website here.

BLACK CEMETERIES ARE REFLECTION OF DEEP SEGREGATION HISTORY

TheGrio   |  May 1, 2021

Many Black Americans excluded from white-owned cemeteries built their own burial spaces, and their descendants are working to preserve the grounds

 

BLACK CEMETERIES ARE REFLECTION OF DEEP SEGREGATION HISTORY

April 29, 2021

Nadia Orton, a genealogist and family historian in Virginia, poses next to tombstones at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Portsmouth, Va., Tuesday, March 23, 2021. Orton has worked tracing her own family and others to historically Black cemeteries. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

 

RICHMOND VOLUNTEERS WORK TO RESTORE NEGLECTED AFRICAN AMERICAN CEMETERIES

The Commonwealth Times i Claire DarcyContributing Writer l February 27, 2021

 

The Historic Evergreen and East End cemeteries, located in Richmond’s East End, are being restored by Enrichmond, a local nonprofit. Photo by Jon Mirador

ECSU TO HOST WORKSHOP ON AFRICAN AMERICAN CEMETERIES

The DAILY ADVANCE l By Melissa Stuckey, Columnist l March 15, 2020

 

Elizabeth City State University Elizabeth City State University will host an African-American cemetery preservation workshop on April 4.

A collaborative project between ECSU’s history program, the North Carolina
African American Heritage Commission, a division of the North Carolina
Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and Museum of the Albemarle,
the workshop will feature a keynote address by historian Nadia K. Orton, a
specialist in African-American burial grounds.

CHECK OUT THE $19 MILLION PLAN FOR HISTORIC EVERGREEN CEMETERY’S RESTORATION

WRIC l by: Keyris Manzanares Posted: Feb 29, 2020 / 03:14 PM EST / Updated: Mar 1, 2020 / 08:43 AM EST

 

Enrichmond Foundation unveiled its plan to restore the Evergreen Cemetery– a historic African-American cemetery located in Richmond’s East End — Saturday morning.

“We’re extremely thankful for the many individuals who contributed to this master plan for Evergreen Cemetery over the past two years,” Enrichmond Executive Director John Sydnor said.

Houston’s Pleasant Green-Culbertson cemetery is like many African American graveyards – rundown and blocked off.

THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE l by Sarah Smith l January 10, 2020

 

The Pleasant GreenCulbertson cemetery, which sits in northeast Houston behind roads peppered with concrete plants and trucking depots, is just one of thousands of eroding African-American cemeteries across the 

FREE COOKOUT AT OAK LAWN THIS SATURDAY

Suffolk News-Herald l by Alex Perry l May 21, 2019

 

Members of the Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation will hold a cookout as part of its Decoration Day celebration for visitors to one of Suffolk’s oldest African-American cemeteries on Saturday.

Possible slave cemetery on UWG campus stirs debate over buried history.

THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION l by Ernie Suggs l May 13, 2019

 

Lord knows how many times in the 113-year-old history of the University of West Georgia that students have picnicked, played Frisbee or casually walked across a small, grassy plot of land in the middle of the campus.

 

Few visible remnants of the plantation remain, most notably the Bonner House, which serves as the university’s welcome center. But recent archaeological tests suggest the long-forgotten remains of Bonner’s slaves might be buried here.

 

Honoring veterans with Oak Lawn Cemetery cleanup.

Suffolk News-Herald l by Alex Perry l May 7, 2019

 

Roughly 50 volunteers gathered Saturday morning for a cleanup of Oak Lawn Cemetery in downtown Suffolk.

 

Members of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation were joined on Saturday by local girl scout troops, members of First Baptist Church Mahan, the Suffolk (VA) Chapter of The Links Inc., the Suffolk-Nansemond Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America and the Nansemond Chapter 31 Order of the Eastern Star, Prince Hall Affiliation.

 

There were also veterans, as well as students from both Lakeland and Nansemond River high schools.

Historians push to preserve US service members’ gravestones in Hampton Roads.

WAVY 10 News l by Jason Marks l April 18, 2019

 

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — At the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery there is a sea of heroes. Their stones nicely arranged, everyone looking like the other. Every name etched as their legacies live on.

 

The graves aren’t nearly as organized in West Point Cemetery in Norfolk….

 

The issue isn’t confined to Norfolk.

 

“The only thing you can make out was that he was a member of the 1st U.S. Colored Cavalry,” said historian Nadia Orton.

 

Orton has ancestors buried at Mt. Cavalry Cemetery in Portsmouth.

 

“Once we came here and found them, we saw all the other grave sites and how hard they were to read and broken,” Orton added.

 

That included nearly two dozen African American Civil War vets.

 

“I’ve been studying him for eight years and I still don’t know who he is,” Orton said pointing to a grave.

 

Orton has made it her mission to recover the lost identities. Some have eluded her.

She Promised to Honor Her Ancestors. First She Had to Find Them.

THE STATE OF THINGS/WUNC 91.5  North Carolina Public Radio l Frank Stasio and Jennifer Brookland l April 15, 2019

 

When Nadia Orton’s kidneys were failing, she sent letters to friends and relatives in the hopes that someone could be a donor or help defray the cost. Orton’s great-aunt Philgradore responded with money from her church. So a few years later, when Aunt Phil asked on her deathbed that her family not be forgotten, Orton knew she had to find a way to honor her ancestors. The problem was that she didn’t know who they were, or where to find them.

 

As she started tracing her lineage and locating her ancestors’ final resting places in North Carolina and Virginia, Orton began to notice the state of black cemeteries. Many were overgrown, unprotected and unmapped. Seeing the condition of these sacred spaces sparked a passion for protecting them.

Historic black cemetery set for restoration.

The Suffolk News-Herald l by Alex Perry l March 20, 2019

 

In the late 19th century, seven formerly enslaved African-American businessmen and veterans established Oak Lawn Cemetery, one of Suffolk’s oldest African-American cemeteries. The cemetery remains to this day a vivid representation of the city’s illustrious black history.

 

The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation is organizing a cleanup this May to restore this cemetery and preserve the history it holds. More importantly, volunteers wish to clear a path for people to pay their respects to veterans, family members and other cherished individuals that impacted this community…

 

Among those buried there are John W. Richardson, president of the Phoenix Bank of Nansemond, and Wiley H. Crocker, founder of the Tidewater Fair Association and Nansemond Development Corporation, according to documents prepared by Nadia Orton, the foundation’s secretary and historian.

Alumna takes care of sacred spaces.

DUKE MAGAZINE l BY JANINE LATUS l PHOTOS BY MARK ATKINSON February 08, 2019 | WINTER 2018 ISSUE

 

Nadia Orton ’98 steps carefully around concrete vaults and sunken spots where pine caskets have collapsed inside century- old graves, her knee-high camo boots laced tight.

 

“I’ve had snakes and stray dogs come out of holes like that,” Orton says, nodding at a grave split in two by a fallen tree branch. Her family insists on the snake boots, a walking stick, a companion.

 

They tell her, “We know you love history, but you’re not supposed to be part of it yet.”

 

So the boots are always in the car. So are the thin purple gardening gloves she pulls on to protect her hands from her own impatience to sweep aside pine needles and poison ivy and run a finger over the engravings there, thinned by weather and time.

Bills seek state maintenance money for more historic African-American cemeteries.

Virginia Mercury l BY:  – JANUARY 22, 2019 5:21 AM

 

As the 2019 session of Virginia’s General Assembly ramps into full gear, state lawmakers are considering a handful of bills that would add at least 10 historic African-American cemeteries to the roster of black burial grounds eligible to receive maintenance funds from the state.

 

HB 1973 by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, would make state funds available for the preservation of two cemeteries in Pulaski County: New River Cemetery and the West Dublin Cemetery, which contain a combined total of 77 graves eligible for Department of Historic Resources dollars. Like the other cemeteries which stand to benefit from the legislation, the remains of people who were likely enslaved lie in these southwest Virginia graveyards.

 

Belle Banks died at age 100 in November 1919; her death certificate lists sparse details about her, but does affirm that Banks, a “negro” woman of “extreme old age” at her death, is buried inside West Dublin Cemetery. Hurst’s bill has been assigned to a subcommittee in the House of Delegates Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources alongside HB 2311 by Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, recommends that 1,315 graves in Suffolk’s Oak Lawn Cemetery become eligible for state funds; HB 2406 by Del. Les Adams, R-Pittsylvania, calls for four historic burial grounds in Martinsville to gain funding eligibility.

 

Photo: Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond’s East End, one of a growing number of historic African-American graveyards eligible for state maintenance money. (Photo by Julia Rendleman)

PROJECT TO RESTORE NEGLECTED AFRICAN-AMERICAN CEMETERY LAUNCHES WITH PUBLIC FORUMS

Richmond Times-Dispatch l by Bridget Balch l October 6, 2018

 

The forum, which attracted about 20 people, was the first of nine public meetings held by The Enrichmond Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to improving public, outdoor spaces in Richmond — to gather public input for its massive project to restore Evergreen Cemetery…

The 60-acre cemetery was established in 1891 by members of the African-American community wishing to create a sacred, final resting place for their people in a time when prejudice kept them from being buried alongside white Virginians.

 

More than a century later, 10,000 people had been buried in Evergreen. But since the founders had not established a provision for continuing maintenance for the cemetery, it was sold in the 1970s. Over the following decades, nature reclaimed much of the heavily wooded cemetery.

 

Every Saturday morning, groups of volunteers come with gardening gloves and equipment and work on cleaning up the overgrowth around the cemetery. Other volunteers, like Nadia Orton, do research and gather information on the people who are buried in Evergreen, many of whom have been forgotten.

 

Orton estimates there are 6,000 people who were buried between 1900 and 1925 and are unknown. She digs through death certificates, obituaries or any documentation that can help her put together the clues about who those people might have been.

OLD AFRICAN-AMERICAN CEMETERIES STRUGGLE TO BE EQUAL.

THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT l by Roger Chesley l June 8 2018

 

Gov. Ralph Northam will head to Portsmouth this month to spotlight new public funding for the upkeep of aging black cemeteries. I’m sure his words will be heartfelt, and he’ll probably speak to rectifying past inequities in Virginia.

 

The money will aid maintenance at Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex in Portsmouth, for example. There’s no question the funding will help.

Segregation followed people to the grave. But a new bill provides funding for black cemeteries.

THE VIRGINIAN PILOT l by Gordon Rago l May 31, 2018

 

Nadia Orton had one goal in mind when she visited the historic Portsmouth cemetery: to mark the grave of Albert Jones.

 

Jones, she had discovered, was born a slave in Southampton County in the early 1800s. An account from a researcher’s 1937 interview with him helped tell his story.

 

At 21, Jones escaped to join the Union Army in 1864. In one battle, he was shot in the hand. “But that didn’t stop me, I had it bandaged and kept on fighting,” Jones told the researcher. Sometime after the Civil War, Jones returned to Hampton Roads, and lived into old age in Portsmouth. He died in a house fire in 1940.

 

For the past 80 years, his grave at the historic African-American Lincoln Memorial Cemetery sat unmarked. His story captivated Orton so much that he began to feel like a long-lost member of her own family, some of whom are buried at Lincoln, she said. He deserved a gravestone.

 

But when Orton, a genealogist, went to visit one day in March, she ran into a familiar problem: flooding.

 

She couldn’t get to Jones’ grave. Nearly a foot of water kept her away. Jones, it turned out, would have to wait again.

Lost to time, a hidden black cemetery in Chesapeake is rediscovered.

The Virginian-Pilot l by Margaret Matray l April 28, 2018

 

From the road, the plot of land doesn’t look like much.

 

Thick woods run right up to the street. Decades of overgrowth – branches, leaves, prickly brambles – cover the ground.

 

But look west, and you’ll spot a path covered in grass.

 

Follow it all the way to the back of the woods and you’ll see it: a break in the heavy brush. At least 17 gravestones dot the earth.

 

Remnants of a cemetery lost to history.

 

The cemetery recently came to light when a residential property company filed court documents, seeking permission to move graves that may be there to another part of the property. The company wanted to make room for new houses. Old deeds indicated a cemetery called Edgewood Memorial once sat on the 3.6-acre plot in South Norfolk…

 

On Thursday, a Pilot reporter and photographer visited the site with genealogist Nadia Orton. Near the southern edge of the property – in the 1300 block of Country Road – dense woods began to thin.

 

A raised headstone slipped into view through the trees.

 

“This is what I was looking for,” Orton said.

 

“… I think this is Edgewood.”

PLACES JOURNAL l by Zach Mortice l May 2017

 

I was drawn to Greenwood because of its history. It’s a history that’s too little known, even locally: my mother-in-law (who is white) grew up not far from the cemetery, but never heard of the place. It’s a history that reflects the fact that the racism and inequality that plague African Americans in life are perpetuated in death. And it’s a history that epitomizes what has become nothing less than a preservation crisis for black burial grounds across the country.

 

One confounding measure of the problem is that we don’t even know its full measure; these cultural and archaeological treasure troves have received little attention from their communities or from historians or preservationists. Michael Trinkley, director of the Chicora Foundation, a non-profit conservation and preservation organization based in Columbia, South Carolina, estimates that at least one-third of African-American burial sites are neglected. Chicora is working to address this problem; recent projects range from a significant survey of burial sites in South Carolina to a manual on “cemetery disaster planning.” 3 But all the usual preservation problems — how to bring new interest and resources to aging and overlooked artifacts — are made profoundly more complicated by the two-century history of slavery in the United States. On the website of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, public historian Nadia Orton recently posted these reflections:

 

African-American cemeteries have been abandoned for the same reasons as many other historic cemeteries, including severed family connections coupled with a lack of provision for long-term maintenance. As a cemetery fills up, profits decrease, and it becomes too expensive to maintain. Overgrowth sets in, and the cemetery becomes impassable. Gravestones are broken by tree roots or covered by bushes, leaves, and tree limbs. But other causes are specific to African-American burial grounds and cemeteries — the ramifications of slavery and of the structural racism that persists in the United States.

No Landscape Tells But One Story, No History Follows But One Path: Considering Washington Park Cemetery and Narratives of a Divided City.

WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY (ST. LOUIS, MO) l by Michael Allen l March 2017

 

Preservation, Black History and Social Resolution

Today, as preservationist Nadia Orton observed in an article for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2016, the conditions of black cemeteries often match the conditions of their surrounding neighborhoods. Preservation efforts like the current campaigns at Washington Park Cemetery and nearby Greenwood Cemetery are underway across the country, and typically are not part of larger regional, mostly white-led preservation fundraising efforts and cultural heritage tourism. There is a perpetual separation from abundant social resources for many black cemetery landscapes. Yet these cemeteries also maintain cultural customs often forbidden by strict management programs at other cemeteries, such as the use of homemade wood or concrete markers, grave decoration, offerings and tree and bush plantings by family members. Black cemeteries enact burial customs going back to the early diasporan influence in North America and even back to African societies. Washington Park Cemetery was more managed than others around St. Louis, but shows signs of these traditions that are a significant part of St. Louis’ cultural heritage – which has included the customs of black people since its founding.

 

Photo: Jennifer Colten, Places Journal, June 2017

GENEALOGICAL TIPS FROM A PRO

THE VIRGINIAN PILOT l AFRICAN AMERICAN TODAY l by Ben Werner l January 29, 2014

MOUNT CALVARY CEMETERY, A BATTLE WITH TIME AND NEGLECT

THE VIRGINIAN PILOT l by Cherise M. Newsome l February 1, 2012

 

PORTSMOUTH — In a cemetery complex tucked off of Deep Creek Boulevard and Pulaski Street, Nadia Orton tiptoes among the dead.

Stepping on the sunken, wet ground, Orton keeps an eye out for feral dogs that have roamed the field for the last few months.

 

“I think they were marking their territory,” she said.

 

But the dogs are mistaken. This grave site doesn’t belong to them. Orton says it belongs to the city, to the community, to the families of the 8,000-plus people who lay in one of Portsmouth’s oldest black cemeteries, referred to as the Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex. Some scholars estimate 15,000 may lie at the site originally used when burials were segregated. It formally opened in 1879, though some burials happened earlier.

 

Notables like former slave-turned-newspaper columnist Jeffrey T. Wilson is buried there. So is prominent black educator I.C. Norcom, though his gravestone has vanished. Children’s advocate Ida Barbour rests there, too, along with musicians, oystermen and business leaders. Orton wants their legacy to stand for generations to come.

 

Nadia, along with her mom, Brenda Orton, used to commute three times a week from Richmond to study and map the plots. Last January, the pair moved to Chesapeake to be able to keep an eye on the graves and to keep a record of the history. According to family records, about 30 of their relatives are buried there, too. They’ve located 15.

Cemetery Complex Gains Advocates.

THE VIRGINIAN PILOT l by Lia Russell l November 3, 2010

 

The long-neglected historic African American cemetery complex off Deep Creek Boulevard and Pulaski Street now has a dedicated advocacy group.

 

and Nadia Orton, a mother and daughter from Richmond who have at least 15 relatives buried in the cemeteries, have formed the African American Historic Cemeteries of Portsmouth Foundation, a “friends” group of volunteers.

 

The idea manifested as a result of a meeting earlier this month with representatives of the Chicora Foundation, which was hired to complete a restoration and preservation plan for the four conjoined cemeteries.

 

Through the friends group, the Ortons want to raise funds, awareness and manpower to help execute Chicora’s 10-year plan. It calls for the removal of more than 30 trees, mapping of graves, “resculpting” of grounds to make them level and seeding or sodding.

 

The cemeteries have been neglected about 60 years, Nadia Orton said.

 

“Other cemetery volunteer groups have come and gone over the years and we’re examining why they didn’t last,” Brenda Orton said. “The message we want to get out is that we’re committed to doing this and we’re here for the long haul.”