Group to support cemetery

Published 11:21 pm Wednesday, June 15, 2011

George Richards, shown on right in Oaklawn Cemetery, was elected on Tuesday night as the chair of a new foundation to help the cemetery.

A group of Suffolk citizens came together Tuesday evening to make a change in Oaklawn Cemetery.

About 20 people attended the meeting, which focused on creating a foundation that can provide perpetual care for the old cemetery.

“My dream is we can bring respectability back to Oaklawn Cemetery,” said George Richards, who was elected chair of the fledgling foundation. “We owe them decent resting places.”

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The process was set in motion by citizens who noticed the grass was rarely cut at the cemetery, which is located next to the city’s Human Resources building at 440 Market St.

“It didn’t get that way overnight, and it’s not going to get fixed overnight,” said Tracy Stewart, who was elected vice-chair of the foundation.

The cemetery, established in the late 1800s, holds the graves of some of Suffolk’s most respected and well-known black ministers, bankers, public officials and businessmen. But nobody quite seems to know who owns the cemetery, and whoever does own it has not been taking care of it.

The local Disabled American Veterans chapter has been keeping the grass cut in a portion of the cemetery reserved for veterans, but most of the rest of the cemetery had grown to weeds. Stewart said the vegetation was more than six feet tall when he visited the cemetery a couple months ago.

The foundation will collect donations and sell available lots in the cemetery to create a perpetual care fund.

Reginald Dirtion and Wilbur Holland were elected secretary and treasurer, respectively, of the foundation.

Floyd Hodges attended Tuesday’s meeting at First Baptist Church Mahan Street because most of his older family members are buried in Oaklawn.

“I’m glad to see this is happening,” he said. Seeing the situation at the cemetery before “almost makes me cry,” he said.

The group also discussed other needs of the cemetery, including signage on nearby streets to direct people to the corner lot.

The foundation plans another meeting July 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the church, located at 112 Mahan St. On July 23 beginning at 9 a.m., volunteers are needed to help with a full-scale cleanup of the cemetery.

For more information on the foundation, call Stewart at 434-6713.