Photos: Nadia K. Orton, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2018. All right 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.
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.