STATESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — As Len Strozier of Omega Mapping Services makes his way through the Green Street Cemetery to map it out in a ground-penetrating radar survey, the orange flags he places where there aren’t just signs of where someone is buried. It’s much more than that, he says.
“Every flag that’s out here represents a gallon of tears where family and loved ones have come in to love their family, honor their family, and remember them,” Strozier said recently while taking a break from his work of identifying grave sites in the cemetery.
He said he doesn’t believe in ghosts or apparitions but said he can feel the presence of thousands who came there to share their grief.
“That’s sad for me. I’m able to show you the where and what, but not the who,” Strozier said.
So far, he’s marked 1,100 grave sites in the cemetery where his radar finds signs of where air pockets, caskets or headstones might be. Each orange flag in the Green Street Cemetery is where someone’s loved one was buried, and that’s something Strozier said he was aware of as he went about his work as a handful of residents, as well as city and county officials, looked on.
Some of those include the Iredell County Public Library administrators and staff that helped secure a $20,000 grant for the survey. Local history librarian Joel Reese and others have done the research and will look to add more information to the map Strozier makes, and possibly who is buried there as they comb through records and information in their archives.
“I firmly believe every burial is a story,” Shellie Taylor said. She is the local history program specialist at the Iredell County Public Library. “Every burial was a mom, a dad or a friend or a sibling. These people had lives and they built this community.”
The area was once home to the Morningside School and a number of prominent Black residents in the city and remains a predominantly Black area of the city.
Reese said, in his research, he expected at least 1,200 grave sites to be found, but he knew that with death certificates not being required by law in North Carolina until 1913, there likely would be more than that as the cemetery was started in 1885. It was used until 1949 as a cemetery in the city.
“This has been very rewarding,” Taylor said. “Joel’s been doing research here for 20 years now, but as a whole, researching this area, learning so much about it, and seeing the orange flags out there has been very rewarding.”
When Strozier’s work of marking and detailing where and what he finds with the radar survey is done over a month from now, a map will be made of all the grave sites in the cemetery.
“I’ll be really excited when we get this map and visually can find out how many burials are here,” Library Director Juli Moore said.
For community activists like Lisa Mozer, who has pushed the city council to find ways to preserve and memorialize landmarks like this in the area, this step by the county’s library is just the beginning but also important because it was a tangible step in the direction Mozer hopes the city will go.
“We have had conversations, but to actually see this come about, and to see our city leadership out here today, that’s such a great step forward. We have to acknowledge and understand what the goal is, and then we can get started working together.”
Mozer said that she hopes by getting the area recognized at the state and national level as historic will encourage the city to create a historic district and put funding into its preservation.