Community Fights To Protect Black and Native American Cemetery

Advocates in Thoroughfare, Virginia are fighting to protect a Black and Native American cemetery that has been disturbed by a private property owner’s land clearing project. According to Native News Online, Prince William County supervisors recently gave their support to the nearly 100 relatives of those buried in the historic Scott Cemetery. 

“It angered me and it broke my heart to see what happened there,” Supervisor Pete Candland said at a May 4 board meeting. “Part of the accountability is understanding how the county fell short and how we can address it.” 

Thoroughfare is located 40 miles east of the nation’s capital and has a long settlement history which includes three historic gravesites in the town. The cemetery in question sits on the far corner of land near a brewery where the Cloverland Plantation once stood. 

“What this has grown into is a passion to really show the respect… that I feel the ones who came before me and paved the way for me,” Frank Washington, whose ancestors are buried in the cemetery told NBC Washington. “Let them rest in peace and show them the dignity that a lot of them didn’t receive in life.” 

The co-owner of the company that owns the land, Bill DeWitt –– whose wife owns the brewery –– said in April that he cleared two and half acres of land to use for crop planting. DeWitt claims he knew nothing of the cemetery and that no excavation took place while clearing the land. 

“All we did is we cut down trees and pulled out stumps,” he said per the outlet’s report. “We didn’t excavate the point where we would exume or knock down headstones.” 

An archaeologist with the county, Justin Patton, received reports that clearing was taking place on the land he knew to be historic. After visiting the property, Patton notified police of the non-permitted clearing on a historic cemetery. 

The road to the cemetery, which is owned by the brewery, is reportedly blocked off. Media outlets reached out to the brewery, but didn’t get an answer about the road being blocked

“The fact they feel like they have a right to block us off from our heritage and history –– it’s a hard pill to swallow,” Washington said. He and others have come together to form the Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare as concerns about a nearby family cemetery being disturbed, too, are raised. 

“I would like to have some kind of stone put on each grave that we find even if we can’t put a name on it just so they know they haven’t been forgotten,” Washington said. 

Photo: Getty Images

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