Pay It Forward: Restoring historic African American cemetery in Southeast DC

Thousands of people driving along Benning Road every day know very little about Woodlawn Cemetery.

Nearly 36,000 people, mostly African Americans, are buried in the 22-acre cemetery which was established in Southeast DC in 1895.

Notable figures who are buried in the cemetery include Blanche K. Bruce, who was the first black Republican senator to serve a full term in Congress in 1898, Wilson Bruce Evans, an abolitionist who owned a stop on the Underground Railroad, and journalist, educator, and lawyer, John Wesley Cromwell, who was interred in 1927.

While there is no shortage of prominent and noteworthy people buried in the cemetery, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, there is a shortage of help to restore and maintain the city treasure.

Tyrone Carter and the Woodlawn Cemetery Association are stepping in to help revitalize the historic graveyard. Carter said he is motivated and inspired by stories of surviving family members who want the opportunity to visit their loved ones in their final resting place. Until now, the cemetery was so overgrown and impassable that visits were impossible and downright dangerous in some cases.

"We can't lose our history, that's very important for us and if we're going to leave something for our kids we're going to have to maintain our history," Carter said.

Carter hopes to increase the frequency of tours and expose more residents and tourist to the history of the cemetery and the historical figures interred there.

FOX 5 teamed up with Easterns Automotive Group to help Carter and the Woodlawn Cemetery Association continue their restoration mission. Joel Bassam of Easterns Automotive Group announced on Monday that the group will be donating $5,000 worth of landscaping services courtesy of SML Services to help clear away debris and replace headstones.

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