LINCROFT, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A New Jersey cemetery for black Civil War soldiers and freed slaves practically disappeared from sight, but now neighbors are working to give the departed a dignified resting place.
Cedar View Cemetery was encased in dense forest, invisible from Hurley’s Lane in Lincroft.
It’s taken years to carefully clear out the heavy brush that shielded the headstones and there is much more work to be done.
Joe Manzi told CBS2’s Meg Baker he literally stumbled upon the cemetery.
“The only reason we knew it was a headstone was because I tripped over it. It wasn’t even visible,” he said.
Manzi, who works at the neighboring St. Leo the Great Parish and School, says he was unaware that a 2-acre historic African-American cemetery existed there until a couple came to place flags one Memorial Day a few years back.
“Black troops buried there, and they had a list of 12 or 14 names of people buried,” he said. “We have a moral obligation to try to find out who’s here, find out about the cemetery.”
Maureen O’Connor Leach, with the Monmouth County Historic Commission, says this is a treasure to find, home to Civil War and World War I soldiers.
“Not many cemeteries from this period that are really preserved and identified and certainly African-American ones are… just about disappeared,” she said.
Volunteers are hoping to connect families who may still live in the area with their ancestors.
“We would like to help them preserve it as much as we can because this is a rare opportunity,” Leach said.
The Reeves family has a large plot with several legible headstones. The farthest plots hold the graves of young children, including a baby only a few weeks old.
“[There’s a] whole story there about who was living in this part of the county in the mid-1800s in that African community. And remember, these are people that came mostly from slavery,” Leach said.
Manzi is in need of donations and volunteers to continue clearing the land. He is also looking for someone to bring in an x-ray machine to identify other graves that may no longer be marked.