Group Raises Money To Memorialize Dead

The grave of James Toon, a former coach at Fayetteville University, is marked with a cross at Wilkins Cemetery. DAILY RECORD PHOTO / EMILY WEAVER

By Emily Weaver
Dunn Daily Record

DUNN – The remains of an estimated 1,000 people are buried in Wilkins Cemetery, but a passerby wouldn’t know it by the number of headstones. Most of the graves are marked with PVC pipe crosses – if they are marked at all.

Wilkins Cemetery is one of Dunn’s oldest burial grounds at the end of Wilson Avenue near Granville Street. Over the course of many years, parts of the graveyard were gobbled up by the woods around it. Joy Williams spent 17 years working to clean it up with the help of volunteers. They planted the pipe crosses on the unmarked graves.

It was the only place African Americans were allowed to be buried in Dunn until 1958, according to Williams.

The group of caretakers is soliciting donations to put a memorial, on the site, etched with the names of people entombed without tombstones on the nearly 4-acre burial ground.

A grave marked for Mrs. Florretta McNair, born 1878, lies among the overgrowth at Wilkins Cemetery. DAILY RECORD PHOTO / EMILY WEAVER

Like James Allen Toon, who played for the New York Giants, was an All-American for the Aggies and coached the Fayetteville State University Broncos. He died in 2011. A white cross of PVC pipes and a pewter name plate are the only markers on his grave.

“He should have a better marker,” Williams said during a cemetery clean up in October 2020.

Another pipe cross calls attention to Baby Boy Johnson who lived and died in a single day in 1990.

And a Vietnam veteran, named John Jay … his last name hidden by the soil and grass that have crept over it.

Others buried in the yard to be honored on the monument include:

  • Lela Gertrude Rose Smith 1883-1949
  • Nellie Williams Smith 1856-1938
  • Mariah Cox Rose 1857-1936
  • Alice Byrd Cameron 1868-1946
  • Margarett Elliott Elliott 1834-1921
  • Willie R. Finch 1898-1964
  • Mollie Holden Smith 1890-1959
  • Nathaniel Layton 1896-1959
  • Georgiana Cameron McAlister 1887-1958
  • Charity Williams McKay 1874-1945
  • Susannah McLean 1854-1953
  • Isham McNeill 1847-1916
  • James Madison Seaberry 1842-1923
  • Rev. Connie David Smith 1882-1970
  • Lettie Byrd Smith 1868-1970
  • Stephen W. Smith 1838-1913
  • Rev. Taylor Surles 1879-1970
  • Augustus Smith 1861-1938

Anyone who would like to make a donation in the memory of those listed is asked to contact Joy Williams at 910-892-3493 or Desi L. Campbell at 980-800-3991.

Checks should be made payable to Wilkins Cemetery Committee, 400 Wilson Ave., Dunn, NC 28334 or can be made through the Cashapp at $wilkinscemetery

The deadline for donations is Feb. 21.

“Wilkins Cemetery is believed to be the oldest African American cemetery in Harnett County,” said Desi Campbell, executive director of the Harnett County African American Heritage Center in Lillington. “We will honor these individuals as a part of our Harnett County Black History Month activities on Feb. 27 at 2 p.m.”