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Alexandria kicking off process to fix neglected historic Black cemetery next week

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

Douglass Memorial Cemetery (1421 Wilkes Street) has long suffered flooding and neglect, but the City of Alexandria said plans to address issues at the cemetery will be presented at a meeting next week.

City employee Michael Johnson has been ringing alarm bells about the state of the cemetery for years. The cemetery has been a burial site for Black Alexandrians since 1827. Around 2,000 people were buried in the cemetery before burials stopped in 1974.

A city report said only 10% of the graves in the cemetery are well-defined, thanks in part to grave markers going missing and a lack of intact vaults and caskets.

The city sought funding earlier this year to support an oral history project related to the project.

The city said plans for the cemetery will be presented at the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center (1108 Jefferson Street) from 6-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

According to a release:

Douglass Cemetery, located at 1421 Wilkes Street, has several preservation issues, including flooding and drainage problems.

The City of Alexandria staff from the Office of Historic Alexandria, Department of Project Implementation, Transportation and Environmental Services, and Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities are working to address these preservation issues. The Social Responsibility Group and the Friends of Douglass Cemetery have dedicated their efforts to raise awareness of the significance of the historic African American cemetery and resolve the preservation issues. The City has developed plans to implement solutions that are respectful and appropriate to the sensitive nature of the site. City Staff will present an update on the plans to address the causes of flooding and the anticipated timeline for the work.

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