The Quest to Reclaim the “Lost Souls” in Springwood

graves5I’ll tell you what. As a reporter, one of the first things you learn (or should learn) is how to keep your emotions in check. Stay neutral, don’t get too close to the subjects in your story – yada, yada. But this was a story I just couldn’t turn my back on.

 

I got a phone call from my pastor in August who’d heard about Springwood Burial Park from Junius Gaither (one of the men in my piece). I met Mr. Gaither the following week and when I got to the cemetery I kept asking him “where are the graves?”

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Mr. Bird (left) and Mr. Gaither know every inch of these 11 acres. They don't even have to read the permanent headstones anymore to know who's buried where.

 

Oh, they’re here he’d say. I met Mr. Bird a few minutes later and together they took me on a tour. We walked about a half a mile around the cemetery (good thing I still had my gym shoes on – normally I wear three inch heels! Oh, and this is probably a good time to share that I “unknowingly” touched some poison ivy and had a rash around my eye for weeks – yep there’s plenty of that in the Springwood Burial Park too).

Anyhow, I was truly disturbed that this was a cemetery. You didn’t hear it in the piece that aired on the 6PM News, but Mr. Gaither said if our ancestors saw this “they’d turn over in their graves”. “Our” meaning Black/African American. But I also can’t help to think in the Hispanic, White or Asian culture… abandoning a cemetery would also be the ultimate disrespect! 

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Approximately 75% of the graves have these "makeshift markers". Most have either blown away or been moved making it difficult to determine who's buried where.

This story has circulated the Roanoke Times a few times and on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday – some organizations volunteer to help spruce it up ( I know a local Boy Scout Troop under the guidance of Mr. Bird also spends some time volunteering occasionally). Even still, too many people don’t know what’s going on.

 

Mr. Bird, who has no ties to this all-black cemetery is a prime example of why the entire community – White, Black, Asian – should care. Would you want your grandparents to be buried here? Heck, would you want to be buried here?  It’s a travesty and being that Roanoke is a deeply rooted family community – a lot of the relatives of these people are likely still in the area.  

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These two chairs sit in front of a grave where a family will come by every now and then and pay respects

So here’s another thing that I didn’t say outright in my piece – these men on a mission to reclaim and revitalize it…THEY NEED MONEY. They’re working to be declared by the IRS as a tax exempt organization but that costs money. The tools, the weed eaters etc…that cost money (and God KNOWS there are a lot of weeds in that place).

Mr. Gaither and Mr. Bird have had meetings with local and state politicians and lawyers — they’re going through the chain of command.  While I think the aforementioned people have been paying attention…bottom line is that’s about all they’ve been paying. We’ve seen what a community can do when it rally’s behind a cause. There is strength in numbers.

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Charlie Turpin! A standup guy. When he's not working he and his tractor are working to spruce up Springwood. He foots the bill to gas up his tractor (Mr. Bird and Mr. Gaither say Charlie has saved them thousands.)

If you or your organization would like to get involved, mailto:hdavis@wdbj7.com and I WILL make sure it gets to the right people.

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2 responses to “The Quest to Reclaim the “Lost Souls” in Springwood

  1. Hollani,
    I wanted to let you and Curt know that this story was really good. It was well shot and well written. Nice use of nat breaks. I didn’t pay attention to how long it was but it felt just right. Really well done. That needs to be dubbed off for award time.

    Hopefully the piece will help bring attention to the cemetery and these men receive the support they need.

  2. GOD BLESS THESE MEN IN THEIR EFFORTS TO RESTORE THIS CEMETARY!!CHARLIE TURPIN IS TRUELY A GREAT MAN,TO STEP IN AND GIVE OF HIS TIME AND EQUIPMENT!! THIS ARTICLE MAY BE THE STEPPING STONE FOR MORE COMMUNITY PEOPLE TO STEP UP AND HELP IN SUCH A HEARTFELT PROJECT.IT MAYBE A GOOD IDEA TO CONTACT MRS. LOTTIE BURKS,OF BUCHANAN,WHO HAS BEEN A LONG TIME MEMBER OF THE “MOUNTAIN VIEW ” CEMETARY ASSOCIATION,THAT HAS HELPED DEVELOPE THE UPKEEP OF THE BLACK CEMETARY,WHICH GETS FAMILIES INVOVLED,SHE WOULD BE INSTRUMENTAL IN HOW IT BECAME A COMMUNITY BASED PROJECT. THANK YOU,MARIA ADAMS,WAYNESBORO,VIRGINIA

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