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CoastLine: Southport's John N. Smith Cemetery Holds Hundreds Of Unmarked Graves

John N. Smith Cemetery Restoration and Preservation, Inc.
John N. Smith Cemetery, Southport, NC

Archaeologists have determined that 900 graves lie unmarked at the John N. Smith Cemetery in Southport.  This African American Cemetery, located on Leonard Street in the heart of Southport, has stories both known and many that are yet to be uncovered.  The oldest headstone, with a date of death in 1874, belongs to John N. Smith himself.   While historians and archaeologists don’t know much about the cemetery’s namesake, they are in the process of locating more unmarked graves and trying to figure out who else might be buried there.   Today, we’re going to find out why we know so little about the people buried there, why this burial ground has been neglected for so long, and what the current efforts are to restore the grounds and learn more about the individual and collective history. 


Judy Gordon, a lifelong Southport resident, helped to establish the John N. Smith Cemetery Restoration and Preservation, Inc. where she is the Board Chair.

Gordon Walker is also a Member of the Board of John N. Smith Cemetery Restoration and Preservation, Inc.

Sarah Lowry is Director of Geophysics, Geophysics Specialist, and an Archaeologist at New South Associates, the firm that undertook the project to locate and establish the existence of the unmarked graves. 

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.
Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR