Pre-Civil War, African-American cemetery task force honors interred

SALISBURY, N.C., Nov. 2, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — When Emily Perry began serving as a member of Salisbury’s Dixonville-Lincoln Memorial Task Force in 2010, she was unaware that her infant aunt was buried there. Thirteen years later, Perry is the Task Force’s chairperson and her aunt who was stillborn, is one of the 530 names recently engraved on the burial grounds’ granite memorials. More than 175 community members gathered at Dixonville Cemetery recently to celebrate the new memorials and honor those interred, including those still unidentified.

Fifty years ago the cemetery grounds were a centerpiece of the tight-knit Dixonville neighborhood in Salisbury, N.C., providing a well-worn pathway leading children to the nearby Lincoln Elementary School. Perry grew up in this East End community.

“Dixonville was a small place, no more than three or four blocks on the East End of town,” said Perry, “but it was such a vibrant neighborhood. There were churches, businesses, houses and our wonderful elementary school – Lincoln Elementary. We had to walk through the cemetery daily to get to school. We cherish those memories.”

The Dixonville Cemetery was the first city of Salisbury-owned cemetery specifically for the burial of African Americans. According to the late Salisbury historian Betty Dan Spencer, there are over 500 documented burials in the one-acre cemetery, though only 18 grave markers were standing in 2010. The oldest gravesite known is that of Mary Valentine, who died in 1851. Other prominent African-American Salisburians are buried there, including Bishop John Jamison Moore, who founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church in western North Carolina. It is believed that Rev. Harry Cowan, a minister who was born into slavery but went on to establish 49 churches and baptize 8,500 people, also is buried there. Perry’s aunt is one of the many children also buried in the Dixonville Cemetery.

“It wasn’t until I became a member of the Task Force that I recognized my grandfather and the baby girl shared the same last name,” said Perry. “Typically two people with the same last name in that small community meant they were related. After my research in our family bible, I discovered that my grandfather, whom we knew as ‘Cal’ was the Calvin Richard Wright listed on her death certificate. My grandfather married my grandmother three years after the baby’s death. It’s so interesting how this stuff comes together. That’s why it’s important for us to know our history.”

Former Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz initiated the Dixonville-Lincoln Memorial Task Force to create the cemetery memorial. The revitalization project’s goal was to increase the prominence of the early African-American cemetery, interpret its history, and pay respect to those buried there. Since its founding, the Task Force has made basic repairs to existing gravestones, installed a historical sign, and a seating area dedicated to the memory of Fred M. Evans, former East End resident, and the first Task Force chair. The Cemetery also includes tributes to other Task Force members who died in recent years. The larger initiative included a memorial walk designed to enhance the front of the cemetery with patterned sidewalks, engraved granite monuments listing the names of those interred, as well as an interpretive walk where visitors may gather, study and reflect on the history of the Cemetery.

Over 280 donors have donated more than $570,000 to complete the revitalization project.
To learn more about Dixonville-Lincoln Memorial, visit

The City of Salisbury is located in the heart of the Piedmont region of North Carolina, midway between Charlotte and Greensboro. Salisbury is the county seat of Rowan County, and provides a full range of municipal services, including law enforcement, fire protection, zoning and code enforcement and water and sewer systems. For more information regarding the City of Salisbury and its services and departments, please visit us on the web at To receive updates regarding local initiatives, meetings, programs and events, please follow us on Twitter at @CitySalisburyNC and Facebook at

SOURCE City of Salisbury, NC

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