Efforts underway to clean historic Black cemetery where veterans rest

CHARLOTTE — Restoring dignity in rest, that’s the mission of a group of volunteers working to restore a historically Black cemetery in northwest Charlotte.

Sixty-seven acres of land were purchased for Cedar Grove Cemetery around 1880, but today only 1.8 acres remain. The cemetery is in complete disrepair.

The site has been abandoned since its last known owner, clergyman John S. Davidson, died in 1972.

Efforts to clean up the now-abandoned site uncovered numerous graves that were covered or had broken headstones -- including those of service members.

“This area was so overgrown over the last 50 years that most people didn’t realize there was a cemetery there right here,” said Aaron Harper, vice president at Veterans Bridge Home.

“Our goal here as fellow veterans is to make sure that these veterans and their families are cared for,” Harper said. “It’s sad that a veteran ... their last, final resting place is being treated like that.”

Arthur Griffin serves on Mecklenburg County’s board of commissioners. He’s also a Vietnam War veteran who has spent time educating people about the Cedar Grove site and leading efforts to see it restored.

“It’s a shame that we were not thoughtful enough to maintain a peaceful and honorable and decent resting place for those who have done so much for us as a community,” he said.

Griffin said for African American servicemembers, the state of their gravesites carries an additional weight.

“African-American veterans that served in not only the Civil War, but World War I, had two wars to fight, basically -- a war in terms of civil rights, but also an actual war,” he said.

After weeks of cleanup efforts, volunteers welcomed the public and families of those buried on the site to a special Memorial Day service on Monday.

It was the first time some families were able to visit loved ones in person.

“We had to actually pave a pathway ourselves to actually get to him,” Brittany McKnabb told Channel 9′s Madison Carter.

Her great-grandfather Thomas McKnabb Sr. served in the Navy and is buried at Cedar Grove.

“He passed before I was even born. So this is the closest that I ever got to him,” she said. “I just wanted to come out here and just meet him myself.”

The McKnabb family said it’s grateful for the efforts to restore this site, not just for their loved one, but for all those who call this their final resting place.

“I’m relieved that something is finally getting done. At the same time, I’m still saddened because who’s to say that there aren’t others out here, that it hasn’t been discovered yet?” McKnabb said.

While Cedar Grove Cemetery is on record, there is no record of who owns or is responsible for maintaining the property.

Volunteers are working to secure grants for ground-penetrating radar, so they can find and mark the sites of those who were laid to rest in the cemetery.

For more information and ways to volunteer, visit this link.

VIDEO: Families sue after cemetery loses track of loved one’s bodies

Madison Carter

Madison Carter, wsoctv.com

Madison is an investigative reporter and anchor for Channel 9.

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