War dead, other Veterans lay in lesser known or abandoned cemeteries

Carol Comegno

May 27, 2022

The Courier Post

Dolly Marshall, a Rutgers University-Camden student and historical preservationist, started an effort four years ago to preserve Mount Peace Cemetery in historic Lawnside, NJ. With the help of dedicated volunteers, three overgrown acres at the back of the cemetery were cleared, uncovering more than 200 graves, where several hundred tombstones were uncovered including military veterans.

The cemetery was established for African Americans who were not admitted to whites-only cemeteries in Camden and has interred many African American veterans from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Spanish American War and Vietnam War.

Mount Peace is currently maintained by volunteers who assist in keeping the cemetery grounds clean throughout the year and operates with private donations and some foundation grants.

In 2021, Marshall received the David H. Knights New Preservation Initiatives Award from Preservation New Jersey for her effort in bringing public awareness through the news media.

Ms. Marshall is also pushing for passage of the African-American Burial Grounds Preservation Act.

"This legislation would open up national funding through the National Park Service for all African American cemeteries to be identified, restored and their history preserved," she explained. Preserving these cultural sites is important to our shared history.

Buried in Mount Peace are Navy sailor John Henry Lawson, a US Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who served during the Civil War at the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. Also buried at the cemetery is Marshall's maternal great-great grandfather, William W. Hegamin, a Civil War naval seaman who served on five naval ships, including the USS Princeton and Rev. Alexander H. Newton, a Civil War Army Sergeant and conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Mount Peace Cemetery seeks private donations and foundation grants to fund the restoration and research.

"My wish is for more public awareness of cemeteries like Mount Peace and for more interest from the younger generation about historic places. These places are threatened with not only lack of funding, but there is also the constant threat of development and other disturbances to these sacred spaces. This work serves a purpose that we can all get behind and come together.

Daily operations continue to be an expense, however trustee David Zallie of the Shoprite family has continued to provide grass cutting services for the front end of the cemetery for many years. However, additional funding is greatly needed to maintain the newly cleared 3 acre portion towards the back. This requires continued landscaping and restoration of headstones which is very costly due to the ground being very uneven,says Marshall.

To contribute to Mount Peace Cemetery’s restoration and preservation projects please go to their website at: http://www.mtpeacecemeteryassociation.or