Marker unveiled for historic cemetery

Published 11:06 pm Friday, October 18, 2019

The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation unveiled a new highway marker for the historic African American cemetery in Suffolk during a ceremony on Oct. 6. This marker is located at the entrance of the historic cemetery, which is located on a corner lot behind the city’s Human Resources Building at 440 Market St.

“It gives people more of an understanding of who is out there, and it talks a bit about the history of the cemetery,” the Rev. Oulaniece Saunders, vice president of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation, said in a phone interview.

The cemetery dates 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.

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

Legislation passed earlier this year by the General Assembly has provided state funding to help maintain Oak Lawn Cemetery and other African American cemeteries throughout the state. The funding the foundation has received has helped members clean, maintain and reset headstones, and also repair more severely damaged markers.

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources approved the verbage on the sign, and Traffic Engineering assisted with installing the sign, which was completed on Oct. 4.

Members of the cemetery foundation were joined by Delegate Chris Jones, Clinton Jenkins and Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett at the Oct. 6 ceremony. They gave thanks to the late George Richards Sr., who greatly helped to restore the cemetery, and Delegate Cliff Hayes Jr., the chief patron for the state funding legislation.

“I think it’s a great honor to have that historic marker put there,” Bennett said in a phone interview.