Virginia: Thirteen New State Historical Highway Markers Approved – Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR)

(Virginia Department of Historic Resources News)

The story of Oak Lawn Cemetery will be relayed in Suffolk. Established by African Americans in 1885, the cemetery now contains the graves of numerous prominent business, religious, educational, and political leaders in Nansemond County (present-day Suffolk), as well as Civil War-era United States Colored Troops, and veterans of other U.S. wars.

Full Text of Marker: (Oak Lawn Cemetery)

(Please note that some texts may be slightly modified before the manufacture and installation of the signs. Also locations proposed for each sign must be approved in consultation with VDOT or public works in jurisdictions outside VDOT authority.)

Seven African American trustees acquired land here in 1885 and established Oak Lawn Cemetery. Community leaders interred here include John W. Richardson, president of the Phoenix Bank of Nansemond; Wiley H. Crocker, founder of the Tidewater Fair Association and Nansemond Development Corporation; William W. Gaines, Baptist minister and founder of the Nansemond Collegiate Institute; Fletcher Mae Howell, Baptist missionary; Dr. William T. Fuller, physician and banker; and William H. Walker, Tuskegee Airman. Also buried here are late-19th-century local politicians, United States Colored Troops, and veterans of World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Sponsor: Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation
Locality: Suffolk
Proposed Location: 449 Market Street
Sponsor Contact: Nadia K. Orton, hamptonroadsgenealogy@gmail.com.
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She Promised to Honor Her Ancestors. First She Had to Find Them. The State of Things, WUNC 91.5, North Carolina Public Radio

Nadia Orton stands with the replacement gravestone she secured for African American Civil War veteran Sgt. Ashley H. Lewis (1842-1890), 1st U.S. Colored Cavalry. She has replaced 20 gravestones for African American Civil War veterans, most from various counties in North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December, 2018. All rights reserved
Warren County NC Rosenwald Orton
Mayflower Rosenwald School (ca. 1924), Inez, Warren County, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015. All rights reserved.
The gravestone of Cherry Williams Sutton (1860-1911), Nadia Orton’s maternal great-great-grandmother, located in a slave cemetery. Inez, Warren County, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015. All rights reserved.

When Nadia Orton’s kidneys were failing, she sent letters to friends and relatives in the hopes that someone could be a donor or help defray the cost. Orton’s great-aunt Philgrador responded with money from her church. So a few years later, when Aunt Phil asked on her deathbed that her family not be forgotten, Orton knew she had to find a way to honor her ancestors. The problem was that she didn’t know who they were, or where to find them.
 
As she started tracing her lineage and locating her ancestors’ final resting places in North Carolina and Virginia, Orton began to notice the state of black cemeteries. Many were overgrown, unprotected and unmapped. Seeing the condition of these sacred spaces sparked a passion for protecting them.
 
Orton has since visited hundreds of cemeteries, and helps other families identify their ancestors’ plots. Host Frank Stasio talks with Nadia Orton, a public historian and professional genealogist, about how she uncovers the past and how it feels to find who came before you

Continue to interview