Local News

Woman reclaims neglected slave cemetery from Sanford woods

Posted February 3, 2012

— A small band of volunteers is working to restore a Lee County cemetery that dates to the early 1800s and contains the graves of hundreds of slaves.

The burial ground, near the Buffalo Presbyterian Church on Carthage Street, had fallen into disrepair in recent decades and was gradually overtaken by ivy and a pine forest.

"It just hurt my heart," said Lisa Martin Sanders, who stumbled upon the cemetery last April.

Sanders and her aunt were looking for the grave of W.B. Wicker, who founded a school in Sanford many years ago. They wandered the area for a couple hours before peering into the woods.

"I've lived in Sanford all my life. I never knew there were graves here," she said.

At least 1,500 African-Americans are buried in the cemetery, but Sanders said the total could be double that.

"I would say a majority of them buried here are slaves," she said, noting some marked graves predate the Civil War.

Slave cemetery near Sanford Group seeks to maintain slave cemetery near Sanford

Property records show the cemetery belonged to five predominantly black churches, two of which no longer exist, she said.

After receiving permission from the other three churches, Sanders and two friends, Beatrice Heck Adams and Charlie Rascoe, cleared brush from the graveyard and cut down several trees to reclaim the site.

"These people belonged to someone, and they were not able to come here and visit or anything. They were being dishonored," Sanders said.

She is trying to create a nonprofit to raise funds to maintain the cemetery, which she hopes to rechristen Black Heritage Community Cemetery, including erecting a wrought-iron fence.

"This is a history lesson. It is for me," she said.


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  • ProudBlackSingleMother Feb 6, 2012

    If three of those churches are still in existence and they failed to keep the cemetery in order, it goes to show how corrupt these little churches are. They would rather spend their time and money on fancy hats, suits and Cadillacs. For shame.

  • sunshine1040 Feb 3, 2012

    dishonored no forgotten yes. There is a difference. Many folks now buy lot is in cemeterys and pay someone to care for the area.That does not mean their decendents are dishonering them if a family member does not go by regularly to polish a stone. My Grandparents are in on state and my parents in another I cannot travel to care for them but i do remember them. In this case the curch is the one not honoring the dead by holding a clean up day at least yearly

  • pjnoobie2 Feb 3, 2012

    Great job ladies!! I am proud of you..there is a graveyard in Chatham County that has slaves buried in it and all they have is a rock for a headstone..its a disgrace! Very unrespectable..I am so happy you did this..