New landmark for once-thriving community of Dixonville
By Steve Huffman
They celebrated Saturday morning the dedication ofa marker commemorating Dixonville Cemetery.
But more important, they celebrated a once-thriving community that played an intricate role in the lives of many of Salisbury’s early inhabitants.
“Welcome home, y’all,” Frank Jones greeted the crowd gathered on a day so beautiful it seemed heaven-sent. “This is Dixonville, N.C.”
According to the marker unveiled Saturday, the cemetery off Old Concord Road was the burial ground for many of the area’s black residents from the mid-1800s through the 1960s. The graveyard was the final resting place for numerous slaves and their descendants.
About five years ago, a number of local residents began a push to have the cemetery and its grounds beautified, and a historical marker erected to note the significance of the site. Grant funds helped with the efforts and members of the Salisbury City Council threw their support to the work.
A 14-member Dixonville Cemetery Committee played a significant role in the project. Saturday’s ceremony, capped by a performance by singers from the Eastside Community Group, seemed to make it all worthwhile.
Jones, 73, a retired administrator with the Washington, D.C., school system, pointed to a tree line just outside the boundaries of the cemetery where his house stood when he was growing up.
Jones said that as a boy, he learned to count by standing at his kitchen window and keeping track of the people who passed on the nearby pathway that led to Lincoln Grammar School.
“I’d say to my mama, ‘There’s number five,’ ” Jones said, laughing as he spoke.
He said the cemetery that was located at the rear of his residence was his playground during the day. Jones said that at night, however, the fear of ghosts kept him out.
He and several other speakers mentioned the nearby Lincoln school that some said was also known as “Dixonville School.” Jones said the school was one of the few to provide educational opportunities to blacks in an era prior to desegregation.
Jones said the school had fine teachers and as a result churned out numerous students who went on to earn advanced degrees and do much good with their lives.
“Those teachers made you toe the mark, you know what I’m saying?” Jones asked.
Fannye Holmes said she has a sister who is 102 and who graduated from Dixonville Grammar School in 1921. Like Jones, Holmes mentioned the path that students followed to and from the school.
“I want to talk about the pathway,” Holmes told those gathered Saturday.
She said other names for the dirt walkway were “the cut-through” and “the short-way.”
“That pathway led to the foundation of children deciding which way they wanted to go in life,” Holmes said.
Ella Woods was another speaker. She referred to the children’s TV show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” while speaking of Dixonville.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Woods said.
She said she had a sister who died in 1956 and who is buried in the cemetery. Woods said family members did their best to maintain the cemetery, with her mother always placing flowers on his sister’s grave at various times throughout the year.
Woods said she and other members of her family were appreciative of the efforts to return the cemetery to a measure of its former glory, and to remember all those buried there.
Exactly how many were laid to rest at the site is anyone’s guess. There are 425 documented burials in the cemetery since 1910, but prior to 1913, North Carolina didn’t require death certificates, meaning many were buried without any official designation of their passing.
At present, 449 burials in the cemetery are chronicled and research is continuing to find more.
Emily Perry is a member of the Dixonville Cemetery Committee and served as master of ceremonies for Saturday’s event. When the sign marking the site was unveiled, Perry and others stepped back and took a moment to admire it.
“It is a beautiful sign, thank God,” Perry said. “This area is indeed holy ground for a lot of us.”
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz was another speaker. She thanked those who made efforts to see the marker erected, and those who pushed to see renovation of the grounds through to fruition.
“We’re celebrating not only a cemetery, but a neighborhood,” Kluttz said. “Truly, we celebrate the good people who lived here, who taught their children right from wrong.”