UCC volunteers unearth history at Franklinton Center at Bricks
Written by Anthony Moujaes January 28, 2013
Members of Evangelical Reformed UCC and (Jewish) Congregation Kol Ami in Maryland worked on a cemetery site at Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, N.C. and documented the burial plots with an online registry.
In a corner of a small community, on the outskirts of Whitakers, N.C., sits Old Bricks Cemetery, the graveyard of a former plantation. The cemetery, long forgotten and overgrown, turned into a historical site unearthed by a clean-up and restoration effort led by a team of young volunteers from the United Church of Christ.
The goal was to restore the burial places and remember the names and history of those families at rest there, said Glenn Wallace, a member of Evangelical Reformed UCC in Maryland.
The Franklinton Center at Bricks, a UCC conference, retreat, and educational facility in eastern North Carolina hosted a recent ecumenical mission trip for Evangelical Reformed UCC and (Jewish) Congregation Kol Ami, both of Frederick, Md. Wallace and Jim Weitz were the adult leaders of a group of teens that removed debris from the cemetery grounds, worked to document as many names as they could from the 96 burial plots, and register the cemetery online.
Leaves, branches and pine needles covered the 1.5-acre site, and once the debris was cleared after about six hours of work, the history of Old Bricks Cemetery came together like the pieces of a puzzle.
Old Bricks Cemetery is on land that was once the Garrett slave plantation before it was transformed into the state’s first accredited school for African Americans more than a century ago. In 1895, the American Missionary Association established eastern North Carolina's first accredited school for former slaves, the Bricks School, which is now Franklinton Center at Bricks. The cemetery has a number of unmarked gravesites that likely belonged to former slaves. Some members of the community are also laid to rest there.
"What we soon discovered among the names and dates was a communal family history laid out before us," Wallace said. "Family names such as Garrett and Phillips were prevalent and it seemed that these families stayed close to home for generations."
There were also several stones and bricks randomly placed on the grounds to mark unnamed burial locations. Wallace said the group left those stones in place so visitors could see the cemetery is probably the final resting place for the plantation slaves.
"What was most impressive is that, with their enthusiasm running high, all the youth kept going to make sure every area was thoroughly checked for sunken or missing stones," Wallace said.
"Cemeteries and burial grounds are significant and complex societal and cultural contributions to communities," said Vivian Lucas, director of Franklinton Center at Bricks. "They provide insight into the relationships and life of a community through their expression of faith, art, culture, architecture, symbolism. Cemeteries of former slave plantations where many graves are unmarked tell a sad story of the unremembered, unnamed individuals whose lives helped build this country."
Maybe the biggest rewards from their work emerged after the trip concluded..
Part of the process of archiving the Old Bricks Cemetery was to upload each of the names and gravestone photos onto findagrave.com, an archive of cemeteries throughout the U.S. Each person buried at Old Bricks Cemetery was added to the database with their own webpage, and linked to their parents and children.
While researching the family names online, Wallace discovered a photo of the John Richard Phillips family, and one of the names that appears on a tombstone at the cemetery. Wallace contacted the person who posted that photo, and was surprised to learn she lives in Montgomery County, Maryland – just north of Washington, D.C., and about 30 miles south of Frederick. She was researching her great-grandparents, who owned land next to the existing property at the Franklinton Center at Bricks. Phillips' parents were once slaves, and he attended the Bricks School.
"[She] took the time to scan and post that vintage photograph so future generations would be able to find it, and be able to look into the eyes of their ancestors," Wallace said.
"The work we did in the cemetery was a powerful learning opportunity about remembering [and] honoring those whose names are often lost in history," said the Rev. Barbara Kershner-Daniel, pastor at Evangelical Reformed. "To share that with our Jewish friends on the sacred ground of the cemetery is a moment none of us will forget."