Historic Raleigh cemetery near Cameron Village needs sprucing up - WNCN: News, Weather

Historic Raleigh cemetery near Cameron Village needs sprucing up

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A local organization wants to breath new life into a historically significant cemetery in the heart of Raleigh. Tucked away off of Oberlin Road and nestled under a canopy of trees is where you'll find the cemetery called Oberlin Cemetery.

The cemetery dates to 1873 as one of the historically significant landmarks in Oberlin Village. 

Oberlin Village was the largest freedmen's village in Wake County during the Reconstruction Era, which began after the Civil War ended in 1865. 

The land originally belonged to Duncan Cameron, who owned 1,900 slaves and was one of the richest men in North Carolina at the time of his death in 1853. But James Harris, a former slave, had attended Oberlin College in Ohio and returned to Raleigh after the Civil War. He established Oberlin Village as a place where former slaves could have their own homes and named it after where he went to school.

The area still carries echoes of its history, with Cameron Village being developed on the former Duncan Cameron property in 1949 and Oberlin Road bearing the Oberlin Village name.

It's estimated that 600 men, women and children are buried there, but that number could be higher. Oral history says the land may have originally been used to bury slaves.

For Sabrina Goode, executive director of Friends of Oberlin Village, the cemetery is a part of her family's history.

"A lot of the gravestones are marked. We know of some family members here that we can not locate their tombstone," said Goode.

Goode says the cemetery has seen better days. The city of Raleigh doesn't own the nearly three-acre plot of land. In fact, exactly who owns the land isn't clear, which leaves clean up efforts to volunteers.

Prior to that, she says her father would clean the cemetery with the help of local churches. 

"It's a constant task of having to keep it neat and clean," Goode said. "It always stays a little bit ahead of us and then this past year we've had a lot of rain -- so you'd almost think that the cemetery hadn't been cleaned at all."

Goode said it is hard to identify a marker. Some graves are even identified with a bottle or a piece of steel.

But Goode says the volunteer effort is growing.

In addition to preserving the site, she hopes to define it.needs 

"If we can have GPS plotting and thermal scanning we'll actually be able to locate the exact placement of each grave site." 

The Friends of Oberlin Village plan to apply for grants to fund future cleanups. The group also estimates that it will need around $8,000 to pay for GPS plotting inside the cemetery.

The next cleanup is scheduled for Nov. 8 from 9 a.m. to noon.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.
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