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Final Resting Places: Preserving Local Historic Graveyards

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By Leonard  E. Colvin

Chief Reporter

New Journal and Guide

 

A large portion of Fannie Fulcher’s family is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Norfolk. Eight months ago, Fulcher, 73, joined the Friends of  Norfolk Historic Cemeteries (FNHC) and is encouraging other African Americans to so, as well.

 

Her deceased father, businessman James Duke Fulcher, bought the family plot in the mid-1940s. Today it would be expensive but Fulcher’s father had a stone mason build a decorative wall to border the side of the graves.

She can be found regularly out at the site cleaning the headstones and grooming the grass around the graves of parents and siblings in the family plot where she and her sister Jean will be buried once they pass on.

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She is one of few people she says that she sees regularly out at Calvary attending to their loved-ones’ graves, the way she does. Fulcher is helping FNHC organize an upcoming open-house from 10 to noon on March 24 at Calvary to recruit supporters to help keep the architecture and headstones of the historic cemetery in top shape. Fulcher says she hopes “that place will be packed on that day.”

 

In Norfolk, though Blacks now have the option of being buried in any of the eight city-owned graveyards where space is available, the 67-acres Calvary Cemetery is the city’s oldest Historically Black Cemetery and is still in use. Located on St. Julian’s Avenue, Calvary Cemetery, according to city historians, was established in 1877 and was the second African American burial site.

The first site was along today’s Princess Anne Road near Monticello in what is the Elmwood Cemetery. 

It was established as early as 1830 as a potter’s field and by 1839 was relegated to be used as a cemetery named Calvary for Blacks until it became clear that more space would be needed for the burial of African-Americans. The “new” Calvary Cemetery was established on St. Julian’s Avenue.

 

Old cemeteries such as Calvary that developed solely to bury African Americans are called “historic graveyards”. During Jim Crow segregation, they were the only places, especially in the South, where Blacks could bury their dead with dignity.

Many of the nation’s historic cemeteries are in disarray today if they are not maintained by the city or corporations which invest in them. Overgrown grass and fallen headstones are evidence of neglect.

In Norfolk the city devotes resources to cutting the grass and clearing its sites of trash. Interests from burial fees is put into a perpetual care trust fund, which the city uses to maintain public cemeteries. 

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