Volunteers gather to clean up Odd Fellows Cemetery

Volunteers gather to clean up Odd Fellows Cemetery
January 21
00:00 2016
Photo by Judie Holcomb-Pack
Volunteers work to clear brush.

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

For The Chronicle

At first glance, the Odd Fellows cemetery looks like an overgrown lot, easily missed as you travel down Shorefair Drive. A narrow road between Senior Services and Pine Hall Brick leads back to the cemetery where it is estimated over 10,000 African-American graves could be buried. It is the oldest African-American cemetery in Forsyth County, outside of Old Salem, and is on the Register of Historic Places.

On a bitterly cold day in January, dozens of volunteers came out to clear undergrowth around the graves that are visible and cut down brush to uncover headstones that date back to the turn of the 20th century. James Clyburn, president of the Friends of the Odd Fellows that provides upkeep for the cemetery, said that the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service has been an annual event for many years. Helping with the upkeep of the cemetery is personal to him. His grandfather, Will Clyburn, purchased 12 plots where some of his family members are buried.

The Odd Fellows Twin City Lodge and Winston Star Lodge purchased land in the early 1900s to create a cemetery for blacks in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. Over the years, the membership of the lodges fell off, leaving very few people to maintain the cemetery. It eventually fell into disrepair and was overtaken with kudzu and brush. In 1952 the Airport Authority needed land to expand, so part of the cemetery site was sold to them and the graves in that portion were moved to Evergreen Cemetery.

A meeting with Nelson Malloy and Henry Stepp spurred a group to start the restoration project and The Friends of the Odd Fellows was formed. They secured a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and  started the process of cleaning up the cemetery, uncovering some of the graves that were buried, and mapping the location of graves. It has been quite an undertaking.

A large contingent of members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority was hard at work on Jan. 18, clipping vines, cutting back brush and clearing around the headstones. Joanette McClain was one of the volunteers who mentioned that she volunteered for the first time last year and loved it.

“I love working outside and thought I would like to do this,” she commented. “I am amazed at how efficient and organized the people are and how much we are able to get done.” She is intrigued with the dates on the old headstones, some of people born 50 years before she was born. She said that people sometimes call and ask them to look for a relative’s grave while they’re working, which adds to the serious nature of their work.

Frankie Brewington was also busy at work wielding a chainsaw, cutting down small trees for other volunteers to haul away. He is with Service Corps, and this is one of their projects. He likes knowing that he is helping such an important project.

Along with the MLK Day of Service, the Groundskeepers Society comes out annually to help undercover plots and clear out weeds. Over 250 volunteers from around the country are expected to be on hand on Feb. 20 to work on the project.

Clyburn knows the scope of this project is at times overwhelming and it will take years to locate and reclaim all the graves in the cemetery. He also knows how important these graves are to family members. He recalls one time they were asked if they could locate a family member’s grave. When they did and he brought the lady over to see it, she just burst into tears.

The Odd Fellows Cemetery is a significant part of the African-American heritage of Winston-Salem. There are plans to one day provide a memorial garden with benches for friends and family to come enjoy the peaceful resting place of their ancestors.

But for now, the work continues to uncover graves, repair and replace headstones, and reclaim the area from the encroaching kudzu, one gravestone at a time.

Contributions to continue the upkeep of the cemetery are appreciated and can be mailed to Friends of the Odd Fellows Cemetery, Attn: James Clyburn, 100 Alice Street, Winston-Salem. NC 27105.


About Author

WS Chronicle

WS Chronicle

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors