Published on The Tennessee Tribune on 8th July 2021
Edited by Alex Willemyns and Hugh Dougherty
Volunteers at the cemetery clean-up in Freehold, N.J. on June 26. (Courtesy of Bethel AME Church)
FREEHOLD, N.J. — Volunteers gathered here on June 26 to clean a rundown burial ground for black Civil War veterans — the first step in a local community campaign to turn the site into a historical landmark and help restore the legacy of soldiers who fought to end slavery in America.
More than 50 participants, including the young, old, and people from different races, spent their Saturday clearing away overgrown weeds, fallen trees and debris from the Squirrel Town Historical Cemetery, where an estimated 35 black Civil War veterans lay in rest.
Led by the Bethel AME Church, which owns the property, the massive clean-up became a community event to honor the heroes who helped secure the Union victory in May 1865.
“It’s history for not only the church, but also for the town, for people of color, and the United States,” said Rev. Ronald Sparks, the pastor at Bethel AME Church, about a mile from the cemetery. “It’s important for the descendants that their families be recognized, and that’s what we want to do,” he said. “It’s time to tell our story and get that story out there.”