Protect Our History: Preserving Oberlin Cemetery

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find a precious jewel smack dab in the middle of ordinary things. The dictionary defines the word jewel as a precious stone, or a valuable object used for personal ornamentation. Figuratively it represents anything considered precious or valuable. This makes your discovery even more special.

Surrounded by office buildings, retail stores and residential housing in the heart of what is now referred to as Cameron Village in Raleigh is such a jewel. Oberlin Cemetery is a historically significant burial site to some of the most prominent members of the African American community from the largest freedmen’s village in Wake County during the Reconstruction Era. Established in 1873, there is believed to be over 600 graves there, some still marked by gravestones and ornate markers. However, because the cemetery did not have a designated owner, over the years it became overrun with brush and debris. Markers ended up missing and graves began to sink. Luckily in recent years an organization was formed to save this sanctuary of history.

Organized in March of 2011, the Friends of Oberlin is a grassroots community organization committed to preserving the grounds and recording the legacies of the persons laid to rest at the site. Descendants of the founders of Oberlin Village along with other residents interested in the cause formed the organization that has made significant progress on cleaning up the cemetery. Twice a year the group has held a cemetery clean up which has garnered great participation and spread awareness throughout the community.

Music “A Song for Bonnie” performed by Megafaun.

Oberlin Cemetery is extremely important to the legacies of Oberlin Village and the surrounding community. It served as a final resting place for people who by law could not be buried anywhere else. There are freed black doctors, lawyers, artisans, teachers, ministers, pillars of the community and even a Buffalo Soldier buried there; truly heroes of Raleigh and this country as well. Walking through the grounds is like turning through the pages of history in Raleigh. If this cemetery is not preserved, a significant section of history will be forever lost.

The Friends of Oberlin put their strong commitment to preserving Oberlin Cemetery into action. This past winter they submitted their application to have the cemetery designated as an historical landmark. They are very pleased to announce that Oberlin Cemetery has now been granted this designation.

But there is still much more work to do. The Friends of Oberlin wish to install a permanent marker to identify the site. Thermo scanning of the grounds is needed to identify and quantify each grave along with creating a map to scale and a recording of all vital statistics of the deceased. To further beautify the area, there are plans for an information kiosk and benches to go along with brochures and tours and continued landscaping. These ventures carry an expense that this grassroots organization unfortunately cannot shoulder alone. The Friends of Oberlin is looking to the community to help.

If you would like to join in with The Friends of Oberlin and their supporters to help preserve and protect this jewel of history, please visit their website at http://www.friendsofoberlin.org/. There you will find a video and other information on how you can help. On April 21, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. at the cemetery, the City of Raleigh will officially solidify the cemetery’s place in history as the city’s 151st historical landmark, opening up more opportunity and avenues for the funding of preservation. Oberlin Cemetery is located at 1014 Oberlin Road, Raleigh, near the intersection with Wade Avenue, near Wilson Temple United Methodist Church. For donations, please contact Sabrina Goode at sabrinabgoode@gmail.com or Cheryl Crooms at ctulette@live.com.

Sharon Mullen is an Ohio native and graduate of Michigan State University. She is also a marketing and promotions professional who enjoys poetry, music and the arts. She can be reached at: Sharon@emergenconline.com