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African American grave site disturbed by subdivision development

Updated: Mar. 16, 2021 at 6:30 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Work by developers ground to a halt after residents complained they were getting too close to a community cemetery last week, but for some graves it was too late.

Steve Edens always knew he lived on old plantation land. He even knew about the plantation owner’s graves by his house and the slave cemetery just a stone’s throw away. To some extent, Pender County knew the graves were there too.

“There is one cemetery that is marked on that layer out there that’s right along the border of Cardinal Acres,” said Pender County planning director Travis Henley.

The slave cemetery eventually turned into a community cemetery. Edens said he recalls people buried there as recently as the 1950s.

As time passed and the area grew, the plots were long forgotten by most people — but not everyone. Both Marshall Moore and Wil Hanley have grandfathers buried in the cemetery.

Last week, Edens and his wife noticed construction was getting a little too close for comfort, threatening the historic burial grounds.

“Pender County has not issued approval of the preliminary plat for this site, which is required prior to commencement of any land development activities,” said Henley. “Therefore, the property is in violation of the Unified Development Ordinance.”

Officials put a halt to the work immediately, but relatives are still upset by what’s going on.

“Now, they come in and just take land,”said Moore. “They need to be punished for this.”

Luckily, Hansley’s grandfather’s plot was spared.

“It’s amazing, you know, to know where your past relatives are,”said Hansley. “Especially a granddad.”

Others weren’t as fortunate. Many graves were already missing headstones and at least one of those left behind is now shattered. Moore and Edens believe its the work of heavy equipment plowing through what’s supposed to be a place to rest in peace.

With only a handful of graves left to salvage, descendants want answers — and most of all, justice — so their loved ones can rest in peace.

Pender County had surveyors on-site Monday to attempt to determine the presence of any additional unmarked graves. So far, they have found six, but Edens says there are dozens more buried there.

The county staff anticipates receiving the results of this survey in the coming days.

Local historians and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, North Carolina Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, and the US Army Corps of Engineers are working with county officials to ensure compliance with historic regulations regarding cemeteries. Site work will not continue until the developers are no longer in violation of the county’s unified development ordinance.

WECT obtained the application for master development plan identifying Logan Developers Inc. as the company applying to develop the land. The company could not be reached for comment.

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