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ArlingtonNew marker notes historic status of church cemetery

New marker notes historic status of church cemetery

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Church and community leaders gathered at Mount Salvation Baptist Church in Arlington on Nov. 20 to celebrate the unveiling of a historical marker, representing a graveyard/cemetery with significant historical provenance.

This gravesite not only depicts African-American history in Arlington but represents the African-American experience and existence in a community that is quickly becoming more and more gentrified. It was designated a local historic district by the county government last year.

Where so many other African-American cemeteries have been demolished for gentrification, the Mount Salvation graveyard and cemetery has lasted over 150 years. County Board Chairman Katie Cristol called it “a guardian, a monument and support system.”

The graveyard is rich in history, officials said, offering a final resting place for those who could not afford a plot or purchase one elsewhere due to the segregation policies in place at the time. The church even offered burial space to those who did not have a membership in the congregation.

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The cemetery is also historic because of some of the graves that feature old African-American-styled features, such as seashells.

The land on which the cemetery is located was donated by trustee Moses Pelham in 1888. His son, Deacon Moses Pelham Jr., is buried in the cemetery. Some of those buried there had been born into slavery.

The marker-unveiling event was planned by Mount Salvation Baptist Church committee members Ms. Linda Moody and Mrs. Portia Haskins, who have both been members more than 50 years. Attendees also included Rev. Delisha Davis, president of the Arlington Virginia Coalition of Black Clergy; historian and author Charlie Clark; and Dr. Scott Edwin Taylor, president of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington.

The cemetery, located adjacent to the church in the historically African-American North Arlington community of Halls Hill/High View Park, is the final resting spot of at least 89 people. Burials at the cemetery were recorded from 1916 (although some likely occurred a decade or two earlier) to 1974.

Arlington has about 40 local historic districts. Unlike inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places or Virginia Landmarks Register, inclusion in a county historic district provides protections from development and alteration, giving the county government’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) say on changes.

Under preservation guidelines that were approved along with the historic status, any changes to the cemetery would have to be “respectful of and compatible with the historic and existing fabric” of the existing site. (While the district includes the cemetery, it will not include the adjacent church building.)

Preparing the background material in support of the Mount Salvation nomination was lengthy, but worth the wait, HALRB members said when the matter was considered in 2020.

“The research was incredible – this information is probably all in the same place for the first time ever,” member Joan Lawrence said at the time.
“This is something that is incredibly valuable to our community and to the history of Arlington,” added Carmela Hamm, a member of the HALRB and, as a child, a member of the congregation at Mount Salvation.

The church supported the nomination, as did neighbors and the John M. Langston Citizens Association.

Cemeteries at two other predominantly African-American churches – Lomax AME Zion and Calloway United Methodist – previously had been designated local historic districts in Arlington.

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