Family of Black veteran buried at overgrown cemetery calls for cleanup

The gravesites are not accessible because an apartment complex surrounds them and the cemetery is fenced in.

The family of a Black veteran buried at an overgrown African American cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida is calling for aid in the cleanup of the historic landmark.

The cemetery, which the St. Nicholas Bethel Baptist Church owns, recently was designated as the city’s oldest African American cemetery, News4JAX reports. The grounds, however, are in poor condition. The gravesites are not accessible because the Stonemount Village apartments surround them and the cemetery is fenced in.

Family members of U.S. Air Force veteran Leon Holland said his gravesite is among those covered in weeds and trash.

An overgrown African American cemetery at the St. Nicholas Bethel Baptist Church Jacksonville, Florida. (Credit News4JAX YouTube)

Sean Leon Holland, who was named after his late uncle, noted the importance of the cemetery. “There are stories that are buried beneath the rubble and in the weeds that need to come out,” said Holland whose grandmother, Essie May Holland, is also buried there next to his uncle, News4JAX reports. “This is not only a historic site, but this is a holy site.”

The Holland family believes that considering Jacksonville’s military history, more should be done to honor these veterans. Meanwhile, church members have indicated that they need guidance from city officials on how to handle the grounds in light of the cemetery’s landmark status, according to News4JAX.

One local chaplain from the Florida Baptist Relief Ministry has reportedly volunteered to assist in the cleanup.

Black veteran buried at overgrown Jacksonville cemetery call for cleanup
U.S. Air Force veteranLeon Holland is buried in the St. Nicholas Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery in the Spring Park section of Jacksonville, Florida. (Credit: News4JAX YouTube)

Councilmember Matt Carlucci is also coordinating potential aid and resources with the relevant city departments, according to News4JAX.

Sean Leon Holland is adamant that the deceased Black servicemen and servicewomen should get their due. “These veterans that are buried at Bethel cemetery deserve the same attention and the same honor as other veterans who gave their life for the betterment of this country. It is a shame and it’s hurtful,” he said, referring to the awful state of the grounds.

Activists across the country have worked to save historic African American cemeteries. TheGrio previously reported that activists in West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut have undertaken a similar fight as the Holland family.

For instance, a group of volunteers called Friends of Lebanon Cemetery in York, Pennsylvania, has worked for more than three years to uncover the headstones of several thousand people buried in the city’s historic but neglected Black cemetery, CNN reports.

TheGrio freelance reporter Ny Magee contributed to this article.

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