Alumna takes care of sacred spaces – Duke Magazine

Thanks, Janine!

Nadia Orton ’98 made a pledge to document her family lineage. It’s turned into a mission to preserve disappearing and discarded history

Nadia Orton ’98 steps carefully around concrete vaults and sunken spots where pine caskets have collapsed inside century- old graves, her knee-high camo boots laced tight.

“I’ve had snakes and stray dogs come out of holes like that,” Orton says, nodding at a grave split in two by a fallen tree branch. Her family insists on the snake boots, a walking stick, a companion.

They tell her, “We know you love history, but you’re not supposed to be part of it yet.”

So the boots are always in the car. So are the thin purple gardening gloves she pulls on to protect her hands from her own impatience to sweep aside pine needles and poison ivy and run a finger over the engravings there, thinned by weather and time.

It is cool out, but still Orton has had to stay home and rest up for five days in order to muster the energy for this tour of Oak Lawn, an unmarked black cemetery in Suffolk, Virginia. The lupus that dogged her at Duke is dragging on her still, after kidney failure and dialysis, and finally a transplant, but it was also her lupus that led her on this quest to preserve black and African-American gravesites. Continue reading

Suffolk, Virginia: The Nansemond Collegiate Institute (1890-1939), Historical Marker

This post originally appeared on The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation.

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, January 5, 2013. All rights reserved

Marker text:

Here stood the Nansemond Collegiate Institute, founded in 1890 as the Nansemond Industrial Institute by Rev. William W. Gaines to provide local black children with an education, because free public schools were closed to them. Eventually the institute offered elementary, secondary and normal school courses of instruction. In 1927 a public school for black residents was opened; competition for students and a series of disastrous fires forced the institute to close in 1939.

Department of Conservation and Historic Resources 1988
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