City Hall recognizes unmarked grave sites

City Hall recognizes unmarked grave sites

After decades of neglecting unmarked gravesites at Ford Ward Park, City Hall has acknowledged the site as an important historical landmark beyond its function in the Civil War.
When Fort Ward was deserted by troops at the Civil Wars end, a group of black Alexandrians settled it, forming a cohesive and lasting community that still exists today. Now their descendents are fighting to preserve their history and the memory of family members buried there more than a century ago.
Their story shouldnt have to be lost in history when in fact it should be celebrated, said Tom Fulton, head of the volunteer Fort Ward Advisory Committee. 
Archaeologists, city staff and groups of volunteers including descendents have worked on a plan to undo the erosion of the communitys property for years. The question now is how to pay for it.
It will cost $75,000 to continue the historical study, which includes looking for more unmarked graves, according to city staff. But that figure represents just one cost to taxpayers; the area needs a new storm water filtering system to mitigate erosion, and the advisory group wants the city to build a management plan for the site.
Its a start, said Councilwoman Alicia Hughes.
[Neglecting the graves] was a gross indignity, Hughes said. These arent just little sites where we should be setting plaques.
The advisory group made 60 recommendations to the city council, 20 of which cost money, Fulton said. And while he wants more money dedicated to the project, he and other supporters seem content that the city has finally taken the issue seriously.
I just want you to know that probably everything is not going to work out according to exactly what we want, and to have you be positive and prioritizing what is happening and respecting and honoring our ancestors really, really means a lot to me, said Fran Terrell, a descendent of the dead buried at the site. Terrell spoke at a city council work session to prioritize the sites maintenance with the rest of the citys budget.
Fort Ward is mutually managed: the parks department mows the lawn, but the Office of Historic Alexandria has the expertise to mow around historically significant areas, for instance. Unearthing and maintaining the site has stalled not just because of funding, but because of stove piping, Fulton said. Too many people are involved but not communicating well, he said, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive Fort Ward plan.
The city council will add the necessary funds to its priority list, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley said. But that doesnt guarantee it will be funded when the budget is adopted May 2.
For a park that was originally established because a group of citizens spoke out, in the 1940s, the current grassroots movement to identify even more historical significance fits aptly, even if the process has moved slowly. 
I think this is a conversation that is long overdue and I think it has given everyone an opportunity to express what they feel is needed for this park, said Councilwoman Del Pepper. Its an extraordinary park and I must say Im very excited that it is now being seen as more than just the museum or the picnic area its got yet another new dimension. And I do sense the urgency.