Tree planting marks 150th anniversary of Newtown Cemetery

Photo essay by Mike Tripp, contributor

Tree Planting at Newtown Cemetery

A historical marker tells some of the history of the Newtown Cemetery, which was listed listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.  It was established in 1869, when a group of trustees purchased land in Newtown, an African-American community northeast of downtown Harrisonburg, to open a cemetery for “all persons of color.” Nearly 1,000 people are now buried here.

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Steven Thomas, an organizer with the Northeast Neighborhood Association, holds a bottle of water for use in a ceremony to commemorate Newtown Cemetery’s 150-year history on Saturday, March 16.

“We welcome everyone to the Newtown Cemetery, established 150 years ago this year, in 1869,” he said. “We are on sacred ground.”

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Thomas pours a libation in honor of those who established Newtown Cemetery.

“The libation is a ritual maintained from the cultural roots of people of African descent,” he said. “Never forgetting the foundation they established and honoring the good deeds they committed while on Earth, is why we pay homage to our ancestors.”

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Student volunteers from Broadway High School bring trees and shrubs to plant with members of the Northeast Neighborhood Association and community to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Newtown Cemetery.

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Wes Runion, an environmental specialist with the city’s Public Works Department, demonstrates proper planting technique for volunteers preparing to plant trees and shrubs at the cemetery.

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Mayor Deanna Reed prepares to plant a tree at the commemoration ceremony.

Volunteers work together on the planting.

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Josie Rao (center), 17, joins fellow Broadway High School students in planting one of several trees and shrubs. Rao helped organize the event and came up with the idea of planting trees.

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A tombstone marks one of the first graves within the original section of Newtown Cemetery in Harrisonburg.

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