GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Established to bury the dead after the Battle of Gettysburg, the National Soldiers Cemetery gets a lot of attention. Every November 19, people gather to mark the anniversary of the cemetery’s dedication in 1863 and celebrate the famous speech given at the ceremony by President Abraham Lincoln.
Over on the west side of town, at the intersection of Lincoln and Long Lanes, is another cemetery, which has been largely overlooked. This is the Lincoln Cemetery, and it is the final resting place for about thirty veterans of the United States Colored Troops-African Americans who fought and died for the Union. But after the war, they were denied burial in the National Cemetery because of their race.
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So in 1867, a group called the Sons of Good Will bought this land as a burial site for members of the African American community, including the soldiers. It was first called Good Will Cemetery. In 1906 St. Paul AME Church shut down its cemetery and reinterred the bodies at Good Will.
In 1916, after the members of the Sons of Good Will died, Lincoln Lodge 145, an African American Elks Lodge. took over care of the location, which was renamed Lincoln Cemetery. But the Lincoln Lodge also suffered from shrinking membership. By 1934 the last member was no longer able to take care of the cemetery, and the Cemetery began to fall into disrepair.
Grass went up, weeds covered the headstones, and graves were damaged by vandals and people parking cars in the cemetery
Not until the 1970s did people start working to rescue the grounds from years of neglect.
After years of work the cemetery is now restored, a Pennsylvania Historical Marker has been erected, and the flags on the graves both honor the dead and remind us that Lincoln’s “great task remaining before us” is still a task uncompleted.