‘We had it all’: Descendants work to restore ancestral cemetery in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE — Among the stones, trees and vines at one cemetery in south Charlotte are the roots of a story seldom told and buried for years.

“We had it all right in this community,” says Wayne Johnson.

Wayne spends time counting the grave markers at an ancestral burial ground in Charlotte’s Grier Heights neighborhood. Some are obvious, others are obscure. For the better part of the last three years, he has ben working to identify the people here.

And he’s not alone.

“You know, you’ve walked past this cemetery many times and didn’t know,” says Dr. Stacey Price Brown, a resident of the Grier Heights neighborhood. “It’s that unknown to ‘now I know,’ it’s like wow, how powerful is this? And these are my people.”

The burial ground is one of two sites that trace back to what once stood as St. Lloyd Presbyterian Church. It was located in what’s now SouthPark. The church was founded by free Black people in the late 1860s who removed themselves from white control at Sharon Presbyterian Church.

Historical records with anecdotal evidence say St. Lloyd was burned down. The only surviving remnant was the cemetery, one site off Colony Road and later in Grier Heights when the congregation moved to its new location.

“St. Lloyd Presbyterian Church was my home church,” Genora Fant told Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown. “That’s where I was baptized in 1951.”

Fant still has family buried there. She initially came back to help clean up the property that had been neglected for years.

“I didn’t realize we will eventually have a board, that was not my intention in the beginning,” Fant told Brown. “I just wanted to help beautify the community.”

Fant is one of several board members with the recently formed St. Lloyd Presbyterian Cemetery Foundation, along with fellow descendants Brown and Johnson.

“They didn’t do all that labor for it to be in vain, for you not to preserve what they started,” Fant said.

Together, they’re working to reclaim their family history, and the city’s too. They’re aiming to restore their ancestors’ dignity.

“I know personally my grandfather, I’ve got to find to great grandmother, his wife, and I’m going to make sure he gets a real marker,” Johnson said.

Johnson says it was nothing short of a miracle when recently it was announced that the cemetery foundation will soon own the deed for both sites.

“How did that happen?” Brown asked.

“God!” he responded.

“That’s an honor and a new awareness, absolutely,” Brown said. “So it’s the grandkids, great grandkids, the great great grandkids, just making them aware and being proud.”

The foundation members say it’s going to be like a park, and they’re going to make the cemetery more alive.

The group is celebrating its official launch this Sunday, the same day the church founders first purchased the land for $25 more than 150 years ago.

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