NOTTOWAY COUNTY, Va. -- In rural Nottoway County, less than a mile from the West Entrance Gate to Fort Pickett and a mile outside of Blackstone, you’ll find Greenview Cemetery — but only if you’re looking for it.
Veteran and Fort Pickett employee James Barchanowicz stumbled upon the historic African American burial grounds during his lunch break in April of 2021.
The first grave he found was one of a World War II veteran. When he looked closer in the brush and debris, he found several other graves and knew he had to do something.
"It bothered me because I'm a veteran myself, and they deserve more respect than what they're being shown," Barchanowicz explained. "So I felt it was my job to come in here and protect what is left and build it up."
A year ago, Barchanowicz said overgrown trees, bushes and limbs covered the headstones, and you wouldn't even realize it was a cemetery.
"You couldn't even tell there was any graves," he noted. "It was just one or two here, and it was covered by trash. People drove over it. There were beer cans. I mean, you name it, it was out here."
But now, after a year of volunteer clean-up efforts, you can see more than 1,000 headstones or simple rocks that were placed at the site where these men and women were laid to rest.
Barchanowicz said he’s researched the land and learned the cemetery was actually bought by two former slaves, The Fitzgeralds, in the very early 1900s.
After the Civil War, the couple saved up the money to buy the land and turned it into an open burial ground for those who couldn’t afford to lay their loved ones to rest.
“I love it," said Barchanowicz. "It's a good story. It doesn't deserve to end being overgrown and forgotten about.”
72-year-old Nottoway County native Clarence Hawkes Jr. guided CBS 6 through the cemetery, pointing out the graves of some men who he says were victims of Jim Crow laws, including 35-year-old Booker T. Spicely.
"He was a forerunner of the bus boycott," Hawkes explained. "He was killed during World War II because he refused to move to the back of the bus. He was killed, and the bus driver was acquitted."
Hawkes is thankful for the work being done to restore the cemetery because he said some of the men and women laid to rest at Greenview fought for our country and don’t deserve to forgotten or neglected.
"They put their lives on the line for our democracy," said Hawkes. "And now they are in an area that needs to be rehabilitated and respected. I'd like to see the cemetery be a beautiful, respectful location, where relatives, researchers, visitors, and just plain people can come out here and view the cemetery and see how people have given their lives to just to be Americans."
In order for Greenview to become the place Hawkes and the team of a dozen volunteers want it to be, they need more help. The group holds monthly clean-ups, but they’re looking for volunteers with equipment to haul off debris and cut down some of the low hanging trees that could potentially destroy the headstones.
They say once they are able to clear low-hanging limbs and other debris, a team from Longwood University will be able to come out and help identify more graves.
So far, the group has discovered 1,050 graves, but they believe there could be dozens more.
"We need more expertise," Hawkes explained. "We need more high tech technology to come out here to identify these graves and find out where they're located."
If you would like to help out, you can reach out to Barchanowicz and his team via email at GreenviewCemeteryProject@gmail.com
"We're not going to stop," said Barchanowicz. "We're going to keep going, and if I've got to spend my money then so be it. It's gonna happen and you know, I'm gonna make this place happen."