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Winston-Salem congregation launches search for African-American lost graves

Members of the Salem Congregation Graveyard Committee are shown. Photo by Tevin Stinson

Winston-Salem congregation launches search for African-American lost graves
August 02
12:26 2018

Earlier this week, the Salem Congregation, the council of the Moravian settlement of Salem and members from St. Phillips African Moravian Church launched a search for lost graves in a forgotten African-American graveyard near Old Salem.   

Initially, Moravian African-Americans were buried in God’s Acre Cemetery, but in 1816, burials were segregated. At that time, African-Americans were buried at the graveyard at the St. Phillips Moravian Church on South Church Street, which is now part of the Old Salem Museums & Gardens.

After the St. Phillips graveyard was thought to be full around the late 1850s, African-Americans were buried at a grave site at the corner of Cemetery Street and Salem Avenue. Until 2011, the graveyard went unnoticed by residents, members of the St. Phillips congregation and the Salem Congregation.

On Tuesday, July 31, a mapping team from Seramur and Associates began the process to find out just how much history is buried in the forgotten graveyard. Just before noon, the team from Boone conducted a geophysical investigation to locate unmarked graves.

Dorothy Pettus, a member of St. Phillips and member of the Salem Congregation Graveyard Committee, said when they found out the history that was buried in the far corner of the God Acre Cemetery, the congregation pitched in and started working on bringing the burial site up to par. She said each year members from St. Phillips come and decorate the headstones of their ancestors buried in the graveyard.

“Since 2011, every year we come and decorate the graves of these lost souls that were just left here,” said Pettus. “It’s like they were hidden out of view.”

After years of hard work and lobbying from the graveyard committee and members from St. Phillips, in 2016 the gravesite known as “St. Phillips Moravian Graveyard #2” or “Second African- American Graveyard” was designated as a historic landmark by the National Park Service because of its significance to African-American history.

A map has more than 120 names of known Africa-Americans buried in the graveyard. According to Peggy Crouse, chairwoman of the graveyard committee, there could be a lot more.

“We have one map that has about 127 names on it. We’ve got a list that has 166 names on it and they’re telling me some researchers are saying there may be 224,” Crouse said.

Crouse also mentioned the oldest headstone identified at the gravesite is dated 1859 and the latest is dated 1962.

Once the unmarked graves are identified, the next step will be getting replacement headstones.  According to David Bergstone, director of facilities for Salem Congregation, a plan of the entire site will be completed to ensure graves are protected.

There are also plans to add a parking lot and an archway at the entrance of the graveyard as well.

While standing in the graveyard on Tuesday morning, Pettus said she was excited to see what the future holds for the burial site, but most importantly she’s excited to share this lost piece of history with the community.

She said, “What I want out of all of this is the African-American community to know about the history in this area.”

For more information, contact the Salem Congregation at its office phone number at (336) 722-6504, or fax number at (336) 725-2514.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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