IVANHOE — The first steps in the restoration of the slave cemetery in Ivanhoe is off to a solid start.
The gathering this past Saturday was the first of many visits that will eventually restore the site. While the end goal is a complete restoration that will have markers placed on each grave at the cemetery, the task for this event was focused on clean up.
The initiative was spearheaded by Democrats from Sampson and surrounding counties, along with members of the community. Those that came out to volunteer were raking up debris, picking up trash, pulling weeds and hand-cleaned the memorial gravestone. While the turnout wasn’t huge, the ones who did show up worked hard to make sure the site was well on its way to restoration.
Those who attended the effort talked about its importance and how they felt sprucing up a part of history.
“Oh man, this means so much to me — it’s near and dear to my heart,” said Edward Gillim, Sampson Democrat Party chairman. “It’s just such a good thing to be able to be a part of this. It was an idea that we made into a reality and we continue to fashion onto what others before us have done here.”
“Some of the people that showed up to help weren’t even born here,” Gillim added. “So, to have them here means so much to us and we hope to continue doing it and preserving history for everybody.”
“It feels wonderful and it’s kind of hard to describe how wonderful it feels, because all of us are so interested in politics and in public engagement,” said Garrett Whipkey, Sampson Democrats Third Vice-Chair. “But, this is so different from going to a meeting or something. Not only is it having fun with some friends of ours, it’s also about coming out here and touching history and actually contributing to the place where we all grew up. It’s really special and the fact that this is all connected back to the political aspect is a really special thing.”
Representatives from Johnston and Harnett counties also showed up to lend support, returning the kindness shown to them for the help they received during their own restoration project of Wilkins Cemetery in Dunn. After traveling a great distance to be there, they shared their own thoughts on being a part of the project.
“This means so much to me, because like Garrett mentioned, to be touching a part of our history and helping to restore it, especially in the current political climate, is amazing,” said President of Johnston County Young Democrats Daniel Franch. “What we are trying to do with all this is restore justice to people who were mistreated and shown disrespect in life, so we can ensure that they do not receive the same disrespect in death, and that’s really our main mission.”
“We also really want to encourage our youth and people of all political parties to get involved with this because it’s a way to come together and be united,” he added. “Because this isn’t just Democratic history but our history as Americans and North Carolinians.”
The President of the Young Democrats of Harnett County, Tyler Fennell, also planned to attend but couldn’t due to illness. That didn’t stop them from having someone attend to volunteer as Kathy McCormick made the trip to represent them and do her part.
“I’m not a Young Dem anymore, but I taught U.S. History so this is my passion, doing something like this,” McCormick said. “This is just absolutely wonderful, even after I Googled how far away this place was and saw that it was two hours, we are still here.”
Another remarkable occurrence about this event came from the fact that the man who poured the cement for the memorial gravestone in 1989 was there. At age 93 Homer Marshall returned there to see the start of the cemetery’s restoration.
“I guess I’d say that this was one of the most important jobs that I did in my entire life, preserving some of the Black history,” Marshall said. “I was telling these guys that I would love to see this become some kind of special day and to have a remembrance day for the slaves.”
“This is connected with the events of the 100 people that were killed with Nat Turner in Richmond and it’s pretty big news,” Marshall continued. “It’s also definitely something that the younger generation should know about, at least, and it’s completely lost.”
“If we can put this out there so that Black and white people can see it, it will make a difference,” he added.
Whipkey also pointed out that he’s trying to establish a Young Democrats chapter in Sampson County. He encouraged people from ages 18 to 36 to contact himif they are interested in getting involved in projects like this one and others.
To get more information, Whipkey can be reached by email at [email protected]
Reach Michael B. Hardison at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.
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