Volunteers Gather To Restore Neglected NE OKC Cemetery

Saturday, April 5th 2014, 6:00 pm
By: News 9

It's one of the oldest African American cemeteries in Oklahoma City and nearly forgotten due to the lacks of funds and neglect. But the community came together on Saturday to bring it back to life and once again memorialize the people who rest here.

Roughly 16,000 people are buried at Trice Hill Cemetery and for too long families couldn't come here and remember them, mostly because they couldn't find them. The cemetery was overgrown with weeds and some markers were even buried in the dirt.

"It was depressing when I first came out here and saw all the overgrowth," said John Bilbury, who has many family members buried at Trice Hill.

Bilbury says he has a plot and plans to be buried here too, but until that day, he's on a mission to restore the historic cemetery.

"It's a legacy and if you lived in the northeast side of Oklahoma City, and for most of the prominent people, this is where they're buried," Bilbury said.

So, to help preserve that legacy, more than 50 volunteers with Lifetroops and OU Medical Center are clearing brush, resetting tombstones and discovering some lost souls.

"I was in awe," said Monica. "I walked around for a little bit and looking at headstones, some of them nowhere to be found, some broken."

5/27/2013 Related Story: Families Upset About Upkeep Of OKC Cemetery

The 30 acre cemetery sits just northeast of downtown and dates back to 1893. It's the final resting place for more than 16,000 people, including former slaves, pastors, community leaders, neighbors and veterans from World War I and up.

"It's a piece, people are missing when you come out here and you have a loved one," said Holata.

Like OU football great Dewey Selmon, whose brother Lee Roy Selmon, also an OU standout, is interred at Trice Hill.

"To us, it's a cause we're not being paid for," Selmon said. "It's a cause I think God put upon our hearts to do."

Lee Roy, Lucious and Dewey Selmon made up the defensive line at OU back in the 70s. Lee Roy passed in 2011, but his brother Dewey still has his back.

"Just him being motivation while we were playing football, he's also motivation for us right now, to make the cemetery look better, to bring is back to where it should be and to restore the history of it," Selmon said.

Volunteers are planning to come out here once a month until the cemetery is restored. The cemetery is still an active cemetery and has plots available.

If you would like to help with donations or volunteer to restore the cemetery, call Trice Hill Cemetery at (405) 427-6233.

9/19/2013 Related Story: NFL Hall Of Famer's Widow Tries To Improve OKC Cemetery Where Husband Buried