Uncovering African-American history, one grave at a time

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A bird’s-eye view shows forgotten African-American graves at the Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport. 

“It’s unreal how much history that is here,” offered Vanessa Gray, president of the Lincoln Cemetery Society.  “Everywhere you step, someone has a story." 

History has been covered up with over growth on the unkempt grounds.

"You couldn't even get to the grave sites because there was so much over growth here, and you were afraid to walk through the grass because it was higher than your hips," Vanessa continued. 

Thanks the 24-year-old Vanessa, that has all changed.

"These are people of our community, whether the race, whether the color, doesn't matter. We are part of the same community," she explained.

For the past three years, Vanessa has spearheaded the mission of cleaning up and restoring headstones at the cemetery. 

"Every time I see a name, it melts my heart because they are finally being recognized and not being covered up no more." 

The grounds are a treasure of African American history. 

"This is one of the Civil War veterans, Joseph Brownlow," Vanessa explained. Former slave and entrepreneur Jordan Park is also buried there. 

Vanessa played at the cemetery as a child and cultivated a special connection with the people put to rest here. 

"This cemetery has done more for me than I could ever do for it. It brought my family together, it brought my friends together, it brought my community together, and I will always, always cherish that." 

Vanessa has cleared out most of the area but, there is still lots to do. She is now working with volunteers to help put together a walking tour for the cemetery.