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Community gathers for Juneteenth Maides Cemetery cleanup

Kathy King teams up with Historic Wilmington Foundation
Updated: Jun. 19, 2021 at 8:02 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Community advocate Kathy King teamed up with the Historic Wilmington Foundation for a cleanup, to preserve and protect Maides Cemetery, a historic African-American burial ground with graves dating back to the 19th century.

“I actually have some family members buried here and there’s community members who are buried here, so there’s a need,” said King. “Where there’s a need, we need to get busy and take care of it.”

The cemetery was unmaintained and unrecognizable after Hurricane Florence.

Community cleanup efforts began a month ago, but today’s cleanup meant more after President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

“We are celebrating this first Juneteenth as a day of service,” said Travis Gilbert, who is the Executive Director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation. “To come out here and say that black history matters and we are going to do our part to ensure that the sacred space gets the love and attention that it deserves.”

It was a good time for volunteers to reflect on the meaning of the holiday, while also using their rakes and shears.

“We are helping to preserve some sites that aren’t your typical Bellamy Mansion and all of that, but really we are getting to respect the diverse culture that we have here in Wilmington and helping to preserve it,” said volunteer Josephine Warshauer.

With tombstones signifying marked graves, volunteers are doing their best to recognize signs of unmarked graves. Certain plants indicate graves.

“They are used to mark the graves when they didn’t have the money to purchase headstones,” said volunteer Chelsea Stygles-Ward.

With volunteers assisting King in her endeavors, she can’t help but smile.

“My heart is warm in terms of it being taken care of now,” said King.

A cemetery barely visible years ago is now a place for King and other African-Americans in the community to honor their loved ones.

Cleanup efforts will continue every Saturday at Maides Cemetery, except for July 3, until the area is cleared and the boundaries of the burial ground are found.

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