Assisting grassroots efforts to preserve a historical, African American institution of Suffolk, Virginia
I’ve written the text for two highway historical markers for African American cemeteries in Virginia: the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex (est. 1879), Portsmouth, in 2016, and Oak Lawn Cemetery (est. 1885), Suffolk, in 2019. However, I never knew how they were made. Thanks to a wonderful story about the manufacturer, Sewah Studios (Marietta, Ohio), I know the answer. The historical marker for Oak Lawn Cemetery is shown briefly in this great video courtesy of WTAP News, Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Pvt. Harrison Spratley was a member of Company E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. According to his military pension file, Harrison was born on August 6, 1847, in Surry County, Virginia. His parents, Dawson Spratley (b. ca. 1810), and Nancy Spratley (b. ca. 1805), were free persons of color. In the 1830s, Dawson Spratley is documented on several “free negro” lists in Surry County, Virginia, working on the farm of Angelina “Angie” Edwards (b. ca. 1770).
(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
Proposed Location: 449 Market Street
Sponsor Contact: Nadia K. Orton, email@example.com.” – Continue reading…
Photos: Nadia K. Orton, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2018. All rights reserved.
The headstones of United States Colored Troops interred in Grove Baptist Church cemetery have been cleaned up, though none were reset. The grave cleaning came in the midst of a renovation project of Grove Church’s parking lot.