“A lot of people say that if you don’t know where you came from you won’t know where you’re going.”
That’s the message Ray Fussell of the Lawnside Historic Society is trying to spread in order to help save an important piece of history in danger of being lost forever.
The Mount Peace Cemetery was created in 1902 on White Horse Pike in Lawnside. It serves as a burial place for African Americans who were not allowed to be buried in white cemeteries.
“These are Civil War soldiers,” said Fussell. “Black soldiers, black people couldn’t be buried anywhere they wanted to be, that’s why so many of them came here.”
Mount Peace holds 77 black Civil War Veterans, including John Lawson of Philadelphia. Lawson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on board the U.S.S. Hartford during attacks against Fort Morgan, on August 5, 1864. The cemetery also serves as a resting place for runaway slaves and African American soldiers who served in segregated companies during World War II.
Since its creation, the cemetery has gone through hard times. The company that owned Mount Peace went bankrupt in 1952. A fire in the cemetery office destroyed all of its records and maps of the plots. While a portion of the cemetery was sold to Texaco in 1960, little maintenance of the grounds was provided.
The cemetery soon became overgrown with shrubbery and litter. Fortunately volunteers decided to take action and a trust fund solicited help from Camden County’s probation department. Cemetery clean up became an approved community service activity for probationers. The Historical Society has also obtained grants from the New Jersey Historic Trust the National Trust for Historic Preservation William Short Fund for New Jersey and the Camden County Preservation Fund. The money is used to study and restore the cemetery.
Despite these efforts, the cemetery is still undergoing a financial crisis as many of the descendants of the buried have either died or moved elsewhere. It’s now dependent on volunteers who have little time or money to spend.
“Just to maintain it runs us about $8,000 a year,” said Yolanda Romero of the Mount Peace Cemetery Association. “We’re down to $2,000 in the treasury.”
“I noticed that younger people don’t have the same interest in their background and heritage that we had or I have,” said Fussell.
Fussell also says there’s a danger in letting a place like Mount Peace slip away.
If you would like to donate money to Mount Peace, you can visit the Lawnside Historical Society website or contact the Lawnside Bureau Hall.