After a rainy week in Hampton Roads, volunteers came together to clean up two historic African American cemeteries in Hampton. They got some help from U.S. Army service members.

The Bassette and Elmerton Cemeteries, are the two oldest African American cemeteries in Hampton, and the final resting place for a lot of prominent African-Americans, like Mary Peake who taught freed slaves during the Civil War.

“Cemeteries don’t produce any revenue. People abandon cemeteries, they leave them here,” Hampton City Council member Steven Brown said. “This is a sacred burial ground and to have the army—Fort Eustis—out here today, blew my mind,” Brown added.

Fort Eustis soldiers on September 12, 2020, cleaning up black historic cemeteries in Hampton.

The Do-Gooders of Hampton Roads and the Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation are no stranger to cleaning the cemetery when the grass gets too long, but this time they got a lot of help.  Members of the U.S. Army at Fort Eustis showed up to volunteer. 

“I actually pulled up this morning and I thought there was an event going on that I didn’t know about,” said Whalan McDew, chairman of the Do-Gooders of Hampton Roads. Dozens of service members came prepared with weed whackers, lawnmowers, and even a barbecue grill for an after clean-up picnic.

The soldiers said they wanted to give back to the community. “We know that things are not necessarily the best, right now, but we can still cast aside our difference to come together to make something positive happen,” said Staff Sgt. Israel Lopez.