HAMPTON, Va.— The final resting place for many African American trailblazers in Hampton is the Elmerton Cemetery on N. King Street and the Bassett Cemetery on nearby Randolph Street.
A group of volunteers usually spends Memorial Day cleaning the Hampton cemeteries, but because of the COVID-19 crisis, this year, the group is much smaller and the work is much larger.
Since Thursday, a handful of volunteers helping the Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation have been cutting, raking and bagging the clippings around the graves of 19th century emancipated slaves, civil rights pioneers and at least one World War I veteran.
“These are persons who really were the early pioneers of what we now call the City of Hampton,” says Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation President Colita Fairfax.
A large group of volunteers typically maintains the privately-owned plots, but this year the pandemic made that impossible.
The small group of volunteers accomplished a lot in a few short days, but they still have a long way to go. The grass in the untreated areas is still more than three feet high, and the gravestones are buried in weeds.
The Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation is looking for donations to help restore the more than 500 known graves in both cemeteries.
“We are asking for donations so that we can then pay lawn experts and landscapers to come out and do this work,” says Fairfax.
Former State Delegate and Hampton educator Mary Christian founded the Barrett- Peake Foundation, whose mission is to “restore and preserve historic African American sites in Hampton.” Christian organized multiple cemetery cleanups throughout the year before she died in November, but the tradition she started is cemented in stone. Fairfax says they are now working to maintain the cemeteries on a monthly basis.
“We’re hoping that people will remember her work and join our effort in our cause,” says Fairfax.
If you’d like to donate to help the volunteers restore the cemeteries, visit the Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation website.