BLUEFIELD,Va. — A fence dividing a cemetery is down and years of overgrown vegetation have been removed, so now sunshine and loved ones can find about 300 graves of people who helped build the Town of Bluefield, Va.
An unveiling ceremony conducted Friday at Maple Hill Cemetery recognized about 300 African Americans, including some who had been enslaved. Their graves had long been overgrown and neglected in a part of the cemetery once known as the “colored section,” said Susie Green of Bluefield, Va., who is among the many people who worked on the project.
Some of the African American birthdates go back as far as the 1830s, she said. In some cases the visible monuments, constructed from concrete, were handmade by African Americans who used their skills as stonemasons and bricklayers.
People who helped with the section’s reclamation and local dignitaries addressed the people attending Friday’s dedication.
“This is a not a restoration,” said former Town Manager Art Meade. “This is a recovery.”
To commemorate the cemetery’s history, a highway marker was approved and issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. After the ceremony, participants walked about a block to where the new marker stands at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Deaton Street.
Descendants of the people resting in a place that was once almost inaccessible due to weeds and other vegetation can now visit their ancestors’ graves. Leon Bradshaw said the grave of his great-grandfather, Arthur Bradshaw and an ancestor his family calls Ima Bradshaw are there.
“What it means to me is that the people in this area are realizing that we are part of this community, too,” he said after the new historic marker was unveiled. “Now that the fence has been taken down, people in Bluefield, Va., they’re getting along so well.”
At one time, people of different races were placed in segregated sections of the cemetery, but now they are mingled throughout it, Bradshaw said.
Coming in spring 2022, a memorial will be unveiled at the African American section’s actual site, Green said. This memorial will consist of three granite stones that will list the names of over 100 recorded African American graves whose markers have been destroyed. The memorials plan includes benches and flower vases. It’s dedication date remains to be announced.
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