Published 9:13 pm Thursday, March 21, 2019
Efforts to revitalize a local cemetery for some of Suffolk’s most consequential African-American figures of the past got a boost during this year’s General Assembly session, when legislators passed a slate of bills that provide funding for 19 historic burial grounds for black citizens across Virginia.
Those cemeteries are located in Richmond, Hampton, Alexandria, Martinsville and Pulaski County — all important — but we here in Suffolk are most grateful for the inclusion of Oak Lawn Cemetery thanks to patrons, Delegates Cliff Hayes Jr., Emily Brewer and Matthew James.
Oak Lawn, with 468 eligible graves, sits on a corner lot in downtown, hidden from most of the city. You won’t see it as a casual passerby; folks that aren’t looking for it and don’t already know it’s there find it only when visiting the city building at 440 Market St., home to departments like the Voter Registrar and Risk Management. And only then if they have to circle around the building to find a parking spot.
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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. Beside these community leaders are veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World Wars I and II. One of these is 1st Lt. William H. Walker, a Tuskegee Airman.
But with nobody taking care of it and nobody willing to claim responsibility for it, the cemetery had fallen into disrepair over the years. Community efforts in the last decade or so helped to make it a bit more presentable, but it was a tall task. The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation was formed to help preserve the cemetery, but funding for the work there had remained a struggle.
With the recently signed bill, state money to help maintain Oak Lawn Cemetery will help with the constant battle against the elements that threaten the history buried at the cemetery.
We thank all those who have dedicated their time, effort and money to helping ensure this cemetery, and the history it contains, is not forgotten.