MATTHEWS, N.C. -- Nearly 100 freed slaves are buried at Roseland Cemetery in Matthews.

Last year, the town’s historical foundation was working to identify those buried there. Now, months later, volunteers are finally able to step foot onto the property and began restoring this piece of history.

Hoke Thompson is one of the main volunteers out cleaning up the cemetery every weekend. This isn’t his first time cleaning up a historic Black cemetery though. He helped restore one when he was a Boy Scout. 

“My service project [was] at Sardis Presbyterian Church restoring the slave cemetery there, and then literally within a couple of months after doing that I heard that there was a Black cemetery here,” Thompson says.

Roseland Cemetery is a one-acre lot just off Monroe Road in Matthews.

“I’ve personally been waiting about five years to be in here,” Thompson says. “There are some people that have waited 30 or 40 years to come in here and have this cleaned up.”

A development company recently purchased the cemetery from a private owner and is working with Thompson and the community to restore it.

“It is an emotional experience just knowing the amount of people in here and their stories,” Thompson says. 

Preserving this history is Thompson’s way of paying respect to the many freed slaves buried there. Like countless Black burial sites across the state, Roseland sat neglected for decades, a result of Jim Crow era laws.

“Unfortunately, resources weren’t available for those folks," Thompson says. “They couldn’t buy property for a long time. They couldn’t own property. They didn’t have the resources to perpetually maintain sites like this.”

Thompson recruited volunteers, like Ari Rodriguez, every Saturday since March to clear mounds of debris and trash.

“I drive by here all the time,” he says. “We just see the woods, so to go in the woods and find actual people that have been buried here is pretty incredible.”

As everyone works to get things cleaned up, Thompson says he can’t wait for the community to finally see Roseland once it’s restored.

Thompson expects the cemetery to be cleaned up by this summer. Restoration plans include a walking path, fence, and new signage.

Thompson says their next and likely final clean-up will be Saturday, April 10 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cemetery is located behind the Address Apartments at 10288 Monroe Road in Matthews.