Against the backdrop of the restored People’s Cemetery on Memorial Day, area residents were urged to remember the sacrifices of those who died for Americans’ freedoms.
“A great country requires those willing to lay down their lives for their nation,” Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday told more than 50 people gathered on May 27 for the fifth annual Memorial Day Program at People’s Cemetery.
There are nearly 500 graves in that cemetery at the End of Second Street in Martinsville, and about 80 are veterans, Monday said.
He talked about the role African-American servicemen played in the nation’s conflicts and added that on Memorial Day, those Americans and all others who died in service to their country are honored.
He praised those gathered for the program, saying that for many people Memorial Day means cooking out, shopping or gardening. They “don’t think a lot about the reason they have a day off,” he said.
But without the sacrifices of those who died for their country, Americans wouldn’t have the freedom to spend the day however they choose.
China is implementing a social credit program in which people who do not follow the government’s directives will receive negative social credits, which could affect the schools their children can attend or if they can get plane tickets or loans, Monday said. Next year people with negative credits will have a special ring tone on their phones so when they get a call, everyone will know “the government doesn’t consider them the right kind of citizens,” he added, calling that system “terrifying.”
In contrast, Americans can do as they choose thanks to “all those people who came before us, some of whom are buried here,” Monday said.
“Thank God for those who gave their last full measure of devotion” to their nation, he added.
Monday also noted that Martinsville is the only locality in the commonwealth to have all its African-American cemeteries recognized under state legislation. That is due to the efforts of Lawrence Mitchell, who lives near People’s Cemetery on Second Street; City Council members Danny Turner and Jennifer Bowles; W.C. Fowlkes, retired Army lieutenant colonel; and Sheriff Steve Draper, according to previous interviews.
Those people and others worked on the cleanup of the cemetery starting in 2012 after Mitchell discovered its maintenance had lapsed.
As part of the process of recognizing the cemetery, Mitchell and the state archaeologist surveyed African-American cemeteries in the city to identify eligible graves and cemeteries, and Monday did the paperwork that now has become the standard for documenting cemeteries.
As a result, the People’s, Mitchell and Smith Street cemeteries qualified and were named in the legislation.
That will help ensure they will be maintained, something Mitchell and others continue to do now. That included Mitchell and his wife, Deborah, placing American flags on each veteran’s grave at People’s Cemetery on Memorial Day morning.
“It’s tremendous to see the progress that’s been made” at the cemetery, Fowlkes said at the morning program. “It takes on a new look each year.”
For years, people did not know that the cemetery existed at the end of Second Street, but now area residents ask him about it and are talking about it, which stimulates interest in it, he said.
“It puts life back into these hallowed grounds,” Fowlkes said.
Turner added that it was an honor to have been involved in the restoration of the cemetery, though he said 99 percent of the work was done by Fowlkes and Mitchell.
Martinsville City Council member Kathy Lawson welcomed those at the Memorial Day program. The Rev. Matthew Brown, pastor of St. Paul High Street Baptist Church, gave the invocation and benediction; MHC Veterans Honor Guard members raised the flag, performed the three-volley salute and played Taps; Clark Givens performed the National Anthem; and Martinsville Vice Mayor Chad Martin led the Pledge of Allegiance.