Suffolk, Virginia: Great American cleanup at Oak Lawn Cemetery (est. 1885)

This post originally appeared on the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation

Courtesy the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Great American cleanup at Oak Lawn Cemetery was a great success. We caught a break with the weather, and over fifty people contributed their time and energy to help preserve the grounds of the cemetery and the history it holds. The members of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation would like to thank Girl Scout Troop 313 (Suffolk, Virginia); Girl Scout Troop 725 (Suffolk, Virginia); Girl Scout Troop 5292 (Driver, Virginia); Princess J. Benn Coker, Worthy Matron, Nansemond Chapter 31, Order of the Eastern Star PHA; Larry Coker; Michela Brown-Mayfield and Christiana Green (Lakeland High School); Fred Greene; Francis McNair, Suffolk Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 5; Carlena Scott, Suffolk (VA) Chapter, Links, Incorporated; Vice-Mayor Leroy Bennett(Suffolk); Rev. Michael Frazier, East End Baptist Church; Mike Lane, Lane Environmental Consultants; Robin Barton; Tracey Tanner; Dennis E. Orton; S. McPherson; and Tyrone Hawkins. Also, special thanks to LeOtis Williams and team for grounds maintenance prior to our event, and all others who were there with us in spirit!

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

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