Ceremony memorializes grave markers at Hillsborough cemetery

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In a ceremony at Margaret Lane Cemetery in Hillsborough, a new brick monument designed to preserve three headstones from unknown grave sites was unveiled.

Orange County Judge Beverly Scarlett didn’t know about the old slave cemetery growing up because blacks didn’t visit that part of Hillsborough.

But Saturday she watched with her mother and daughter as their ancestor’s grave marker and two others were memorialized in a brick monument at the cemetery.

About 50 people attended the ceremony, which included a speech from Mayor Tom Stevens, a brief sermon, the Lord’s Prayer and a hymn. Afterward, the crowd socialized at the graveyard, known today as the Margaret Lane Cemetery, until they were disbanded by snowfall.

“This is a very moving thing for me in that, number one, we’re being acknowledged; our contribution to the community is being acknowledged, and it’s just a powerful thing,” Scarlett said.

“I’m happy my mom has lived to see it happen.”

Scarlett said she noticed three other descendants of people buried in the cemetery at the dedication, including Hillsborough police officer Brad Whitted and retired UNC Campus Health Services employee Walter Faribault Jr.

“It’s nice to be able to commemorate our ancestors and not to lose history of where they are buried, even though the exact spot is questionable,” Faribault said.

Public works employee Sam Dunevant designed and built the memorial with money from the town and a $925 grant from the Hillsborough tourism board, said Kaylor Robinson, a member of the Margaret Lane Cemetery Committee.

The brick monument encases the three tombstones below a plaque that reads, “The grave sites for these markers are known only by God.”

The graveyard first appears in written record in 1885, but it’s believed that Peter Brown Ruffin, Hillsborough’s largest landowner, bought the land in 1854, Robinson said.

“He bought it as a site for burial of slaves,” she said. “After the Civil War, the cemetery was named an African-American cemetery.”

Planning for the memorial began last spring to protect three recovered grave markers, which thieves have targeted for years, and to memorialize those buried in unmarked graves.

Robinson said she got involved in cemetery preservation after the issue hit her family.

“Two years ago, my great-grandfather’s cemetery was destroyed by development,” she said.

“An apartment complex was built on it, and so I got really, really involved with cemetery preservation and not having that happen to others.”

Evelyn Poole-Kober discovered one of the markers while planting flowers at her home across the street from the cemetery, Robinson said.

Poole-Kober said the town founded the committee after winning a legal battle in the mid-1980s against someone who wanted to build a church on top of the graveyard.

The committee works to beautify the cemetery with landscaping and restoration and will soon get back to research now that the monument project is completed, Robinson said.

“Mostly, at this point, we’re back to research because we only know of about 45 or so people that are buried out of the 150 that are marked,” she said.

“So, a lot of research trying to figure out others that are here, more history about the cemetery, anything we can find.”

Contact the City Editor at citydesk@unc.edu.

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