A little gratitude and a bit of help

Published 9:15 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In an area whose history goes back as many years as Suffolk’s does, there are bound to be abandoned and forgotten cemeteries left to the ravages of nature. Whether they’re family plots or community burial grounds, such final resting places suffer as families move away from the area and the collective memories of the communities where the cemeteries are located fade.

It’s surprising, however, when that fate befalls a cemetery right in the middle of a well-traveled area like downtown Suffolk.

But that appears to be just what happened at Oaklawn Cemetery, which is tucked away on a corner lot near City Hall. So little is known about the property, in fact, that nobody’s even sure who owns it, and a deed that was found for it was illegible and unable to shed any light on the subject.

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But some of the city’s most important figures in black history are buried there — a former Nansemond County supervisor, a former president of Phoenix Bank and the founder of the first school of higher education for black residents of the area among them. These folks, and all of the others who rest there, deserve to have someone taking care of them.

At least, that’s what Tracy Stewart thought when he noticed recently that the grass in the cemetery had grown to more than six feet tall. So Stewart has spearheaded an effort to clean up the cemetery and devise a plan for continual maintenance there. It’s a volunteer effort by him and a small group of people who believe that the people buried in the cemetery deserve to be remembered and respected, no matter what their skin tone.

Stewart’s sacrifice — he has spent many hours cutting grass, cleaning up and lobbying for help with the project — is a fine example of community service. He deserves the community’s praise, as well as its help.

To learn how you can help with the effort, call Stewart at 434-6713. And don’t forget to thank him for what he’s done while you have him on the phone. Suffolk could use more people like him.