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Rachael K. Williams and her SOAL team continue to revitalize Lincoln Cemetery after decades of neglect

Harrisburg's Oldest Historically Black Cemetery

  • By Marquis Lupton

Aired; November 28th, 2023.

In a poignant and transformative journey, Rachael K. Williams embarked on a mission to restore the historic Lincoln Cemetery in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the final resting place of over 107 Black Civil War Veterans, a Revolutionary War Veteran, a Mexican War Veteran, and numerous influential figures from Harrisburg’s Black community. Williams, tracing the footsteps of her formerly enslaved ancestors who sought refuge in Harrisburg during the Civil War, discovered the cemetery in a state of disrepair, with sinking and broken grave markers and mounds of fresh dirt suggesting neglect.

Upon returning to Buffalo, New York, Williams encountered legal barriers, as Pennsylvania lacked effective laws protecting cemeteries. Undeterred, she founded SOAL: Saving Our Ancestors’ Legacy in June 2021. This descendant-led nonprofit aims to restore Lincoln Cemetery through volunteer-based conservation and preservation efforts, public history research, and digital humanities initiatives.

Lincoln Cemetery, established in 1877, holds the legacies of Harrisburg’s early Black leaders, including Underground Railroad activists, politicians, educators, and civil rights pioneers. SOAL’s formation marks a crucial step in honoring and preserving this vital piece of African American history, ensuring that the contributions and stories of those buried in Lincoln Cemetery endure for future generations. Williams’ commitment reflects a powerful dedication to rectifying historical neglect and ensuring the lasting legacy of those who shaped Harrisburg’s vibrant Black community.

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