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?”
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!
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.
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.
If you or your organization would like to get involved, mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org and I WILL make sure it gets to the right people.