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Soldiers help uncover, honor African-American history

By Staff Sgt. Teresa J. Cleveland | 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Dec. 5, 2017

HAMPTON, Va. —

Members of the Better Options for Single Soldiers program at Joint Base Langley-Eustis helped restore the oldest and largest African-American cemetery in Hampton Roads, Dec. 2.

Pleasant Shade Cemetery, located on the border of downtown Hampton and Newport News, dates back to 1888 as the final resting place for more than 15,000 African-Americans. The owner abandoned Pleasant Shade several years ago, leaving many gravesites to now be overrun by grass and brush.

Artisine Mears-Lang, who has family buried at Pleasant Shade, created the East End Neighborhood Association in 2011 to preserve the cemetery. Small community organizations and churches have since helped the restoration project, but much more work is yet to be done.

In hopes of complete the restoration sooner, the association turned to local military units to find volunteers.

“We serve the people--of our communities in both peacetime and wartime,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Vidal, 733rd Mission Support Group command sergeant major. “Knowing the historical value of this place and the foundation these people laid for their community, it’s vital that we do our part to help restore the beauty of this cemetery to honor those buried here.”

More than 60 gravesites have been uncovered since BOSS and other military and civilian volunteers began working with the restoration project during two visits, but more help is needed.

“There are a lot of graves still covered by trees and brush, and the more help and maintenance equipment we can get, the more we can bring to light to honor the deceased and their families,” said Spc. Victoria Porter, JBLE BOSS president. “We basically have our own museum right here, and we at BOSS want to do everything we can to help this organization restore something beautiful.”

BOSS and other military volunteers plan to host another restoration day at the cemetery in late February or early March 2018. They will be in need of manpower, chainsaws, protective gear, trucks to haul debris and other lawn equipment.

For more information about volunteering for the Pleasant Shades Restoration Project, contact Porter at 878-3285 or visit www.pleasantshadecemetery.org.

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