Community cleans up historic Huntington Cemetery
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – The community is working together to preserve some of Huntingon’s history at Bethel Cemetery.
“Some of Huntington’s leaders are buried here in the African American community, and church leaders, military leaders, political leaders are buried here.” said Samuel Moore, a leader of the beautification project. “It gets very emotional every now and then just to walk around and see the fact that these people were buried here and their lives don’t seem to have much value because they were abandoned.”
The cemetery was originally owned by the McClain family, who owned a funeral home in Huntington. After the company closed, the cemetery became overgrown.
Moore says about every 10 years a bit of maintenance would be done, but then it would be forgotten all over again.
“At first when you were driving down the highway, you couldn’t tell there was a cemetery here,” Moore said. “Now that the workers have arrived, and you can tell at least it was a cemetery.”
Over the past two years, a group called Friends of Bethel has formed to pledge to help maintain the upkeep of the cemetery.
Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle and his deputies are also helping, as well as inmates who have been convicted but on day release or house arrest.
Jonathan Holley is one of the inmates who donates his time to clean up the cemetery.
“I have a past, but it’s never too late to start being more active in the community again now,” Holley said.
Although he doesn’t know anyone buried here, as he clears the brush, he thinks of the people behind the names carved on the graves.
“It’s a pity that people couldn’t come and visit their families. I think everyone should be able to have the right to come and visit their family, and they haven’t been able to for years,” he said.
Huntington resident David Harris has visited the cemetery dozens of times.
“I went up and was horrified when I went up and went through the doors because it was just overgrown,” he said.
His first trip was around 45 years ago when his mother told him to come and find his cousin’s grave.
“I couldn’t find him. I came here with my bishop, and he showed me exactly where it was after I identified who it was,” Harris said.
After a few years of hard work, the sun is now shining on his cousin’s grave, and now he can share the joy he has with others by showing them where their loved ones are buried.
“It’s like putting together a puzzle, you put the pieces together and it comes together,” he said. “My hope is that people come here and look around and see who their relatives are, their predecessors, and make a graveyard out of it.”
Chris Miller of Dutch Miller donated $50,000 to help maintain the cemetery.
Leaders hope to one day list Bethel Cemetery on the National Historic Register. The cemetery houses approximately 800 graves of black citizens of Huntington, with some of the plots dating back to the Spanish–American War.
Moore says they have a group that comes in to polish and refurbish headstones and straighten them.
If you would like to donate to the cause, you can send money to the Tri State Foundation and earmark it for Friends of Bethel.
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