WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Many of North Carolina’s Black cemeteries have been forgotten or have gone widely unknown. But for the people who have loved ones buried there, their lives meant something.
“A lot of these people who were out here were friends of my parents. So, I knew them personally and when I find their headstones, the hills or the Haristons or the Timlichs, it’s very exciting because I remember them,” Odd Fellows Cemetery Secretary Linda Dark said.
Keeping their memories alive. That’s what’s important to the descendants on this private piece of land that is Odd Fellows Cemetery in Winston-Salem.
“This is Hannah Scales and she was our ancestor that everybody knew. We think she was born around 1860-1863, probably into slavery, and she died in 1926,” Dark said.
Scales was Dark’s great-grandmother.
These are facts Dark learned as she dove deeper into her family’s lineage.
“I had started doing family history search and found her in the national archives in D.C. in 1900,” Dark said.
When Dark moved back to the area in 2007, she went searching for that physical piece of her past.
Reporter: “As someone who was born under segregation, talk about the importance of Black people being able to connect with their roots. There’s so many blocks it seems like, when it comes to our ancestral past, that it’s hard for [Black people] to connect. Why is it important to do that?”
“You hit a brick wall, you can’t get past certain years, certain census records,” Dark replied. “So, to connect that little piece of paper with her actual headstone and burial location was very exciting.”
Deltra Bonner’s aunt was buried here too, Helen Shuford.
She died in 1935 from tuberculosis. She was about 12-years-old at the time.
“My family, every Christmas and Easter we would come out and place flowers on her grave,” Bonner said.
That was in the 1960s.
By the time Bonner and her family came back to visit a little more than a decade later, they couldn’t get to Helen.
“We promised we would do what we could, but [the cemetery board] wasn’t organized at that time,” Bonner said.
Bonner, her mother and family members, began volunteering to help with clean up.
They couldn’t make it to Helen’s grave until 2013 — nearly 40 years later.
“Unfortunately, she passed, my mother did, and my grandmother, before we found aunt Helen’s grave,” Bonner said.
So, it’s important to keep alive the memory of Helen and the hundreds, maybe even thousands who rest at Odd Fellows.
“If there’s anybody that realizes that you have family members here, come tell your story. The stories are extremely important,” Bonner said. “Even in death, Black lives matter.”
On the next episode of Forgotten Souls of North Carolina’s Black Cemeteries, Rasheeda Kabba shows us the notable person buried beyond those trees who made American history. Why he was considered a hero.