Nearly 60 people attended a recent ceremony in Meadows of Dan to officially dedicate a grave marker set last year to honor the dead.
Bob Heafner and J.D. Lee, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, were among those to address the crowd gathered in the Slave Meadow Cemetery.
Heafner, who worked on the project for nearly 35 years, read the names of some of the African-Americans believed to be resting in the cemetery. His comments were emotionally charged.
“Ellen died a slave, December 16th, 1862, at one year, two days old,” Heafner said. Ellen’s memorial and other memorials like hers were erased when the Blue Ridge Parkway was built.
He moved to Meadows of Dan in the 1970s and in 1983, co-founded a journal called “The Mountain Laurel,” an archive of the mountain people, history and way of life.
Long-time resident Matt Burnette, who died in 1986, told Heafner about the graves of the slaves and asked Heafner to promise to get those grave markers replaced. Heafner also wanted to honor the memory of the slaves and the free African Americans buried in the cemetery, according to previous reports.
In 2012, a wooden fence was erected along the border of the cemetery, and in 2016, Libby Wilcox became interested in the project.
She worked with the National Park Service, urging them to allow a grave marker to be placed in the Slave Meadow Cemetery. She also asked the granite quarry in Mount Airy, N.C. to donate a grave marker, according to previous reports.
The grave marker was set at the cemetery on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017.
Heafner who wrote the epitaph: “Slave Meadow Cemetery. In memory and honor of the known and unknown African-Americans buried in this Meadow. May they rest in peace; forever free.”