The St. Lloyd Presbyterian Church Cemetery Restoration project is a community-led initiative aimed at preserving the rich history of Grier Heights, a historically African American community in Charlotte, NC. This project focuses on restoring the cemetery, which holds the remains of many deceased relatives of Grier Heights residents. By revitalizing the cemetery, the community seeks to honor their ancestors and create a space that educates visitors about the neighborhood’s cultural legacy.

“We’re restoring the cemetery because of the history and linkage that it has to our struggles in America,” said Wayne Johnson, President of St. Loyd Cemetery Restoration Project. “It’s also important to not forget the past while also regarding and remembering those buried in the cemetery in part because of their influence to help shape the Grier Heights community.”

Established in 1886 by former slave Sam Billings, Grier Heights flourished as a vibrant African American neighborhood, attracting residents from various professions and income levels. Notably, it was home to the first self-funded school in the area, Billingsville Elementary School, which opened its doors in 1927. Over the years, Grier Heights faced the challenges of gentrification due to its desirable location near Uptown Charlotte. The community project aims to counteract this trend by highlighting and preserving its unique cultural heritage.

The restoration project encompasses various aspects, including landscaping, artwork, grave markings, archival research, and oral history interviews. The community envisions a cemetery space that serves as an educational resource, allowing passersby to learn about the lives and stories of the individuals buried there. The community leverages partnerships and applies for grant funding to accomplish some of these tasks. Funding is sought for cleaning up the cemetery, the GPR location for the graves, and the art installation.

Grier Heights residents actively engage in community initiatives and collaborate with organizations such as DreamKey Partners, Thompson Child and Family Focus, a local nonprofit that also supports the cemetery project.

“Our goal is to always work in partnership with residents and communities where we work and live,” said DreamKey Partners’ Special Projects Manager Jennifer Duru Perry. “It’s important to understand the history of neighborhoods and the people that live there. That’s how we ensure sustainable success with our developments and everything we do.”

As Grier Heights faces the ongoing challenges of gentrification, the restoration of the cemetery and the sharing of its stories become crucial. The community hopes that by revitalizing the cemetery and raising awareness about its historical significance, they can solidify the contributions of Grier Heights residents and create a lasting testament to their enduring spirit and cultural heritage.