New Jersey woman on a mission to restore historically Black cemetery

LAWNSIDE, New Jersey (WPVI) -- A Lawnside, New Jersey woman is on a mission to restore a portion of a historically Black cemetery that has been neglected for decades.

For more than 50 years, the three acres in the back of Mount Peace Cemetery have been overgrown with weeds and vegetation with graves buried in thick woods.

Dolly Marshall is, quite literally, shining a light.

"A lot of these stones are well intact, they just haven't seen the light of day because they've been hidden," Marshall, a board member of Mount Peace Cemetery Association, explained.

The cemetery was first established in the community in 1900 and it was "created for the sole purpose of giving Black people a place to be buried with dignity and respect," said Marshall.

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Last fall, Marshall and other volunteers began excavating the woods, looking for graves.

"In a matter of six months, we rediscovered 200," Marshall said. Some were Black Civil War veterans, while others were previously enslaved people.

"When I'm walking through here I always wondered about the people and their lives. It's more than just names on the headstone. It's people and what they did and who loved them," said Marshall, who found out some were even people her family loved too.

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"This is my great-uncle. His name is Jehu Oscar Hegaman," she said while pointing to a grave. "It was just like an out-of-body experience because I was hoping and hoping that one day that I would."

There's more work to be done to fully restore this resting place, but for Marhsall, each discovery makes it worth it.

"My dream is to get people to want to come here and learn because there's a lot of hidden history here," she said.

Marshall says what she really needs now are more volunteers. There are generations of Black history in this cemetery and she says it will take the whole community to rediscover it.
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