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Alexandria seeking funding to preserve the oral history of historic black cemetery in Old Town

Douglass Cemetery has been damaged in recent flooding, photo courtesy Michael Johnson

There are nearly 200 years worth of stories buried at 1421 Wilkes Street.

The site started being used as a burial place for Black Alexandrians in 1827, but was officially established as the Douglass Memorial Cemetery in 1895. The last burial was in 1975.

Now, the Office of Historic Alexandria is hoping for funding to help tell the stories of the dead in the cemetery and their families.

The city is seeking $20,000 in grant funding from Virginia Humanities to support oral history documentation.

“The Office of Historic Alexandria is initiating a project to research and preserve the history of Douglass Cemetery,” said a memo from Gretchen Bulova, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria. “A large component of this project is to facilitate oral history interviews with descendants of family members interred in the cemetery.”

The project will include training Howard University students as interviewers to assist with the oral history collection and create a documentary.

The cemetery has been through the wringer in recent years, plagued by floods that have washed away headstones and faced years of disrepair. In recent years, the city has started taking steps to better preserve the cemetery and prevent flooding problems at the site.

The grant for the oral history program is scheduled for review at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

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