A small Virginia town fights to save historic cemeteries of former slaves

A pair of Thoroughfare, Va., cemeteries are now facing encroachment issues by developers. (Courtesy Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare via Facebook)

A historic marker in Thoroughfare, Va. (Courtesy Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare via Facebook)

One of the graves at a Thoroughfare, Va., cemetery, the resting ground of former slaves. (Courtesy Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare via Facebook)

Thoroughfare, Va., is on a mission to preserve history and the resting grounds of former slaves, as it fights to stop developers from taking over the land. (Courtesy Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare via Facebook)

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A community in Prince William County, Virginia, is on a mission to preserve history and the resting grounds of former slaves, as it fights to stop developers from taking over the land.

County resident Frank Washington is organizer of the Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare, the small town where his family has lived for centuries after it was established by freed slaves in the 1800s.

He said a pair of Thoroughfare cemeteries are now facing encroachment issues.

“We had threats of our relatives actually being taken out of the cemetery completely and we’ve had threats of ‘if we bury any more people in the cemetery, then we may be liable for a lawsuit,'” Washington said.

He said he recently discovered the graves of 21 additional slaves in one of the cemeteries.

“The history is here, the heritage is here but the people coming in don’t seem to have any idea of the reverence or respect that we have for those that have gone on before us.”

Washington said the battle is to preserve Thoroughfare as a whole and to continue building on the legacy freed slaves and Native Americans established.

Some of the homes and structures built in the 1800s by the people who settled there are facing the possibility of being torn down as well.

“You see it with Confederate statues: They have taken time to preserve all these things and they were afforded those opportunities immediately after the Civil War, their land and structures. African Americans, we didn’t have those opportunities,” Washington said.

The Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare has established a GoFundMe page and said it hired a lawyer.

It is looking into how permits were issued to begin the building projects that now threaten the history as well.

“So far, I’ve been met with a lot of unanswered questions,” Washington said.

He said the group is working with elected officials to address concerns, with a mission of protecting the town envisioned by his ancestors.

“I want to see it held on to and passed on from generation to generation,” Washington said.

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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