16 gravestones vandalized in historic Black Salisbury cemetery

Published 1:36 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2022

By Josh Bergeron and Natalie Anderson

SALISBURY — Dixonville-Lincoln Memorial Task Force Chair Emily Perry and city communications staff discovered 16 toppled or broken gravestones Wednesday when they drove to Dixonville Cemetery to film videos for Black History Month.

It’s not clear when or why the cemetery was vandalized, but Perry said she was devastated and heartbroken to see a project she’s shepherded for the previous 11 years vandalized. A Salisbury Police officer responded to a call from city staff about the vandalism to gather information. Perry and others were last at the cemetery in October.

“I don’t know what kind of consciousness someone would have to come into a cemetery and just desecrate all of these tombstones,” Perry said. “I just hope and pray that we will be able to get the money to complete the project and also be able to move on where we can really celebrate the awesomeness of this community.”

One of the city’s oldest Black cemeteries, Dixonville Cemetery was deeded to the city of Salisbury in 1874. There are more than 500 documented burials that have occurred at the Dixonville site since 1914. However, many took place prior to the practice of official record-keeping and are unmarked. The oldest existing headstone in Dixonville Cemetery dates to 1851.

Since 2010, a task force has worked to identify those names and connections for a three-phased project. The Dixonville community was located on the east side of Salisbury, and much of it was negatively affected by urban renewal in the 1960s.

The memorial site, located at 210 Old Concord Road, represents a centerpiece of a tight-knit neighborhood and a pathway for children attending the historic Lincoln Elementary School, which was the first school opened for African-American students in Salisbury in the late 1800s.

Work on the cemetery project started in 2018. Task force and community members have worked to make repairs to the existing grave markers and create a history sign, a foot path and an interpretative walk. Additionally, a $50,000 grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation allowed Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to install a “Here’s My Story” seating area that includes a bench with quotes from local resident and Salisbury Pride board member Jamie Wilkerson and Kiddieland Kindergarten teacher and administrator Timika Peterson.

Alyssa Nelson, an urban designer who works for the city of Salisbury, said the project required about $15,000 to engrave the names of those buried on markers at the edge of the cemetery. More money could be required to repair the gravestones.

“It is really a sad commentary when people don’t have reverence for the dead,” said Salisbury resident DeeDee Wright, who’s on the Dixonville-Lincoln Memorial Task Force. “When you think about not being able to live in peace, you can’t even die in peace. It seems like the grave should be sacrosanct.”

Kaisha Brown, city communications specialist, encouraged people to contact the Salisbury Police Department at 704-638-5333 with any information about the vandalism, including if they saw someone visit the cemetery or noticed anything unusual.

For more information about the cemetery and to give a donation, visit dixonvillememorial.com.