Martinsville cemeteries receive state recognition

Three African-American cemeteries recognized as historically significant

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – The grave of Horace Penn Jr. is one of two known graves in Matthews cemetery that have been there since the 1800s.

Martinsville resident Lawrence Mitchell Jr. and a state archeologist went to the city's African-American cemeteries over the winter and spent hours documenting any pre-1900 graves.

Any African-American cemetery with a pre-1900s grave is eligible to be considered historically significant by the state.

"My family is buried in one of these cemeteries. In fact, they're buried at People's Cemetery," Mitchell said. "It's just a legacy I think they would like."

Once the graves were documented, a bill was passed in the General Assembly to add the three cemeteries -- Matthews, People's, and Smith Street -- to the state's list of historically significant African-American cemeteries.

"It's really exciting. I don't think it's just exciting for me, but for the residents of Martinsville. Not only the African-Americans but for all residents of Martinsville, to know that we look after our cemeteries," Mitchell said.

State funding can now be applied for to help care for them.

This week, Martinsville City Council members presented Mitchell with a proclamation for his work.

He plans to continue to try to bring life to death.

If any previously unknown African-American cemeteries are discovered, he'll work to get them state recognition if they're eligible.