Historical cemetery cleanup project makes headway

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HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) — A cleanup project of an historical site which has been underway for a year now is making progress in Huntington.

The entrance to Bethel Cemetery off of Bethel Road.

Overgrown brush off Highway 64 in Huntington hid an historical treasure.

“Oh man! Bethel Cemetery has been a great project. It’s a jewel that’s not publicly known or recognized.” 

Charles Shaw, president of the Huntington Black Pastors Ministerial Association

A year ago Shaw, other Black pastors and many in the community began clearing things up, and little by little the Bethel Cemetery is emerging.

Sterling Hall (left) and Carol Polan (right) clear fallen limbs from grave sites.

“It’s a predominantly Black cemetery, that has been here for many, many years.  And as you can see, it has been neglected.” 

Chuck Zerkle, Sheriff, Cabell County

It’s home to around 800 graves—some dating back to the Spanish-American War. 60 of them are known veterans.

Headstones poke through the overgrowth at Bethel Cemetery.

“This was during the time of segregation. And segregation was so deep, that even when someone died or passed away, it still existed.  The Bethel Cemeterey was, for a number of years, the only cemetery, where African Americans could be buried.” 

Charles Shaw, president of the Huntington Black Pastors Ministerial Association

The pastor says the fact it was allowed to become so overgrown is a stain on Huntington’s history. Many organizations in the Huntington area think so too. So, the cleanup efforts have continued.

Earlier in the summer, there were clearing projects underway for several sections of the overgrown cemetery.

Organizers now say they are focusing on tackling the remaining sections by early November.

The cemetery is currently in private hands, but soon organizers hope they can take the next steps to making this a public landmark.

“The next push will be to have the veterans administration come in and straighten gravestones like this one right over here and repair those graves and then we will also have to do some projects where we identify where the graves are, get them plotted.” 

Carol Polan, Huntington City Council member
Sheriff Chuck Zerkle of Cabell County gestures to where cleanup efforts will resume.

“The last push is gonna be this last corner to join the top of the hill.” 

Chuck Zerkle, Sheriff, Cabell County

Restoring Bethel Cemetery, and reviving part of Huntington’s history.  

“We have an opportunity to polish up this stone and to make it a central area for tours and other things as people come to our great city.” 

Charles Shaw, president of the Huntington Black Pastors Ministerial Association

The Bethel Cemetery cleanups have even prompted Marshall University to create a class on the restoration of Bethel. Taught by Dr. James Bryce, the course is slated to begin next semester.

“The fundamental idea of the course is teach students how to see and understand the broader systems that contribute to places such as Bethel being pushed to the side…The course will be a mix of history, sociology, local leadership skills and primarily how to non-destructively conduct a subsurface site investigation.”

Dr. James Bryce, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Marshall University

For more information on the course itself or how to enroll, contact Dr. Bryce at bryce@marshall.edu.

Cleanup efforts are tentatively scheduled to resume in three to four weeks. For information about how to get involved, contact Carol Polan at (304) 633-2014.

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