Sororities help restore DC cemetery rich in Black history

Members of Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Kappa Alpha are part of an effort to restore historic Woodlawn Cemetery in Southeast D.C. (Courtesy Woodlawn Collaborative Project)

The history of Woodlawn Cemetery in Southeast D.C. spans nearly 200 years, and the latest chapter involves a mission to restore the grounds.

Marjorie Kinard is a member of Delta Sigma Theta’s D.C. alumnae. Her mission to locate her sorority’s founder, Mary Edna Brown Coleman, brought her to the cemetery.

The property spans 22 acres, and much of it is covered in overgrown vegetation.

“We said: ‘Well, this place needs to be kept up. Our founder is out here,’” said Kinard.

Volunteers have cared for it over the years, she said, but it’s been tough.

“There’s a definite need for people to volunteer and help,” said Kinard, who is now the coordinator of the Woodlawn Collaborative Project, a group focused on restoring its legacy.

The cemetery spans 22 acres, and much of it is covered in overgrown vegetation. (Courtesy Woodlawn Collaborative Project)

Members of three local Alpha Kappa Alpha chapters have joined the effort. They recently found that founding members of their organization are also buried at Woodlawn. So now, the groups are working together to honor the thousands buried there, including a former slave who became a senator.

They’ve put together committees for collecting data, educating the community and securing financial support to keep up with managing the grounds.

They are also looking for volunteers to cut the grass and maintain the cemetery.

“Anybody who wants to help us to preserve Woodlawn Cemetery, we’re inviting them,” Kinard said. “The vision has already been locked in long before we came aboard. We’re going to try and take that vision and move forward with it.”

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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