JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Volunteers began the process Saturday to clean up an overgrown African American cemetery in Spring Park where nearly 200 people, including military veterans, were laid to rest dating back to the early 1900s.
The cemetery, which is located off Phillips Highway and Belair Road South, was recently designated as one of Jacksonville’s oldest African American cemeteries.
St. Nicholas Bethel Baptist Church owns the cemetery.
“Heartbreaking to see what it looks like, but it’s a good burden for me to have. And for the ministry to have, really, to get it back to the way it used to be,” Carl Patterson, the church pastor said.
Church members spoke out about the cemetery’s neglected conditions in March.
Danny Grabill felt compelled to organize the cleanup after he saw the story on News4JAX.
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Volunteers made good progress getting the mounds of brush and piles of tree limbs removed so headstones such as Leon Holland’s would be visible again.
“You can see down at the bottom here, it looks like he served in the Air Force, born 1932 and died 1952. So, he was 20 years old,” Grabill said.
The debris and overgrown foliage weren’t the only problems volunteers has to tackle. Trash was also an issue.
Cans, bottles, and other objects lay just feet away from broken headstones across the lot.
“My heart is full right now seeing this. But my vision for this overall, no matter how long it takes, I’d like to see a re-dedication of the cemetery to let the community see that it’s here,” Grabill said.
The volunteers said the restoration project will take time, but also acknowledged that it’s a process they look forward to making.
“As long as it’s on our watch, it’s our job to make sure it doesn’t happen ever again. Like I said, it’s a good burden to have and we’ll make sure it doesn’t,” Patterson said.