Green Lawn cemetery on Concord Road in Chester Township, PA had been one of those neglected burial grounds that was reserved for Blacks when cemeteries were segregated by race. Saved by Chester’s Twyla Simpkins and her cadre of volunteers, they have made great strides tending to the grounds and restoring dignity to our ancestors.
Part of their mission in this abandoned cemetery is to cut grass and take inventory of who is buried here. They have sectioned off the cemetery and are tackling the ground keeping and inventory one section at a time.
With probably less than half of the cemetery headstones identified, they’ve discovered up to 200 veterans from wars dating back to the Civil War including four Buffalo Soldiers.
On Saturday, Twyla and crew staged a Veteran’s Day event to honor those former soldiers buried at Green Lawn with a special tribute from the Rothwell family who is believed to be Chester’s original Black family having moved here in 1851.
The great, great, great granddaughter of Private Isaac Rothwell presented a touching family history of her relative buried at Green Lawn who died fighting in the Civil War. There was a presentation on the history of the Buffalo Soldiers and a reading by local students of the names of all the 200 veterans identified so far buried at Green Lawn.
Before the program kicked off, I helped place American flags at grave sites of some of the veterans. One area of the cemetery is identified as Veteran’s Row which is four rows of tomb stones and markers of just veterans. The rows may even go further than what we could get to but so much of the cemetery has yet to be cleared of high grass and weeds.
The event was extremely touching as the confluence of emotions grew while trudging through the conditions of a long neglected Black cemetery; hearing the story of the Rothwell family; seeing the large number of veteran’s graves from wars dating back to slavery, and enduring the long recitation of names of all those real Black soldiers buried there.
View Twyla Simpkin’s short documentary on Green Lawn Cemetery.