Historic cemetery cleanup needs volunteers

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation is looking for volunteers to assist in a Saturday cleanup for one of Suffolk’s oldest African-American cemeteries.

The cleanup will be on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Oak Lawn Cemetery, located on a corner lot behind the city’s Human Resources Building at 440 Market St. Volunteers will be provided gloves, rakes, bags, bug spray, shovels, wheelbarrows and other necessary equipment. Comfortable clothing and shoes are recommended.

Groups will rake the area, cut down shrubbery and fill in the holes that have formed in graves at the cemetery. Refreshments and tents for shade will also be available for volunteers.

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The cemetery dates back to the late 19th century and there are hundreds buried in the lot, including John W. Richardson, president of the Phoenix Bank of Nansemond, and Wiley H. Crocker, founder of the Tidewater Fair Association and Nansemond Development Corporation.

There are also veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World Wars I and II. Lt. William H. Walker, a Tuskegee Airman, is among them.

Legislation passed this year by the General Assembly will provide state funding to help maintain Oak Lawn Cemetery and other African-American cemeteries throughout the state. The foundation will receive funding to clean, maintain and reset headstones and also repair more severely damaged markers.

Reginald Dirtion, president of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation, said that cleaning up the cemetery will not only beautify the historic space in honor of those buried there; it also will help families find loves ones hidden in the brush.

“We would just like to lead a cleanup to honor them and the family members that need to come out there and find some of their family members,” he said. “Sometimes when they go out there, they can’t even find their graves, because of all shrubbery and stuff that’s there.”

Visit oaklawncemeterysuffolk.com or call 809-7600 for more information.