Restoring Huntington's Minority Cemetery One Month at a Time

Updated 5 years ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Bethel Gravesite
Bethel Gravesite
Marty Shelton Photo from Facebook

William Booker died as an infantryman in the Spanish American War. Until Martin Shelton chanced upon his grave among overgrown vines and  weeds, his sacrifice may have gone unremembered by yet another generation.

Brooker is buried in Bethel Cemetery in Huntington. A final resting place of many African American veterans, Bethel is near the Stanford Park subdivision.

  

Martin Shelton learned about the forgotten burial place from his crew leader working a job on the Huntington Sanitary Board. After work, he brought his wife up to the subdivision.

“We ducked into the woods , located some of the stones and realized a lot of them were veteran’s stones,” Shelton explained. “You could not recognize it. We had no idea.”

After researching, “we found 44 people  buried there,” according to a list, 41 of them are veterans. “The veterans stones issued by the government are easily recognizable. There’s one right after another after another.”

He continued, “We have 41 Americans, mostly West Virginians, minorities who fought for our country that was not very good to them. Yet, they fought with honor, pride and courage. To me, it says something of their determination at the time . For them to be forgotten , breaks my heart.  We’re trying to honor them.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s veterans affairs coordinator got back to Shelton within 48 hours of  notification. “Meg from his office has been down here ever since. An awesome , first class top notch lady.” Shelton praised Sen. Rockefeller for his “passion.” Noting that often those in high political office are dismissed as self-serving, Shelton stressed, “Rockefeller truly does have a passion for veterans. We’ve had three people from his office come down every month on their own time to clean. I think it says a lot about the people he surrounds himself with.”

As of mid-September, Shelton said that a good portion of Bethel has been cleared. “We are hopeful that the Park Board will take it over. The Senator’s office has been in contact with them."

However, community response has been lacking. “It’s disheartening. We’ve not had very many people show up. That’s not going to stop us. We’re going to get it done. I have four kids, work two jobs, I’m active in my union, and I find the time to go up there, one Saturday a month.”

He thinks “if more people would come and look at it” they would be touched both by the condition and the Huntington history up there.

“The McClain’s were minority residents of this city that catered to the African American community and performed a good service for the soldiers that came back. It’s a shame. But we will bring it back, one month at a time.”

The current property owner has expressed an intent to donate the property to an entity that will be responsible for maintenance.

The next cleaning date will be Oct. 27. “We start around 8:30 a.m. and finish around 5:30 p.m.,” Shelton said. “People can come for an hour… that’s great. Bring a rake, if not, there’s something for everybody to do.”

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