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Groups hope to resurrect historic cemetery

Posted November 11, 2008

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— Community groups are seeking state support to restore an abandoned cemetery near Cameron Village that contains the graves of some of Raleigh's earliest freed black families.

Oberlin Cemetery is surrounded by offices and condominiums near the intersection of Wade Avenue and Oberlin Road, and the site is so heavily wooded and covered with underbrush that many people don't even know it's there.

The 142-year-old cemetery is the burial ground for generations of the earliest residents of Oberlin Village, one of the first neighborhoods in Raleigh for free blacks in the late 1800s. Two soldiers who fought in North Carolina's all-black regiment in the Spanish-American War also are buried there.

Some of Leonidas Haywood's relatives are buried in the three-acre cemetery, where many graves are unmarked.

"It brings a sadness to me when I go through there," Haywood said. "I think about the people who have done so many wonderful things in the community, and they're forgotten."

The Latta House Foundation, which seeks to preserve the history of Oberlin Village, plans to meet with state officials in January to discuss restoring the cemetery.

"It's neglect and limited resources," foundation official Judith Guest said of the cemetery's current plight. "It's everyone's history. In order for people to envision where they are in the future, you have to look at your past."

Before community groups can clean up and restore the cemetery, though, officials need to determine who owns the property.

"There's no record. It's not recorded. It's a mystery," Haywood said. "It's very important (to determine the ownership) because it would be a shame for history to just wipe the community out completely."


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