AYDEN, N.C. (WNCT) – More than 400 people are buried at Ayden’s Ancestral African American Cemetery, or 4AC. The new sign at the site honors both those in marked and unmarked graves.

Linda Smith serves as president of the cemetery. She has family buried there.

“One day I got brave and walked over here. And I cried. When I walked on the ground I cried because I saw the babies. I saw the people. I saw the adults. And I said this is just not right,” Smith said.

Smith said men, women, children and veterans are buried at the cemetery with some headstones dating as far back as the 1800s.

The project to restore the cemetery started several years ago when East Carolina University partnered with the Town of Ayden.

“ECU partnered with Ayden to find the graves and the names to do research,” Smith said. “They did research figuring out how many graves were here, how much area was the graves on.”

Last Wednesday, the organization put up a temporary sign marking the historic site.

“The sign to mark the location means it’s a reality, means these people did live and they did die. Means these people did have someone who cared about them,” Smith said.

Volunteers and community members agree with Smith.

“Because cemeteries are a sacred ground. If we let the past of those historical ones let it be lost, then we are not giving any credit to our forefathers,” Jesse Wallace, a volunteer, said.

“By us doing this, others will see as time goes on. We still need to keep it going. It started in 2021, 2023. We’re going to make sure in 2025 or 2040, the cemetery, we got to keep it clean. Somebody’s got to step up,” Ayden resident Doris Conner said.

Smith’s hope is to clean up the site, mark each final resting place, make 4AC a place to gather and honor those buried there and hold events to remember them.

“A park. Because there are so many trees that look to be over a hundred years old, so we don’t want to disturb any of the graves that’s already there so we going to make it a park,” Smith said. “We have a lot of great things to come next if we live to see it.”

The 4AC is looking for donations and volunteers. More information can be found on their Facebook page which can be found by clicking here.