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July 26, 2021


The John N. Smith Cemetery in Southport has received a $3800 grant from The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) through their Community Challenge Grant Program to acknowledge the cemetery as a valued heritage treasure.


The AARP Community Challenge is a grant program to make tangible improvements to communities that jump-start long-term change. It is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods and rural areas to become great places to live for people of all ages.


Established in 1874, the cemetery is the burial site for more than 1725 African Americans. Many of these individuals were slaves, farmers, teachers, business owners, fishing industry workers, homemakers and veterans dating from the Civil War through subsequent military campaigns. Combined, these individuals represent an essential component of Southport’s collective cultural memory and of the history of the Cape Fear River region.


The Smith Cemetery shares a public education initiative with the Southport Historical Society. Relying on oral histories from local black elders, the origins and life stories, traditions and community contributions of many Southport citizens come to life. Funds from AARP will assist with the further growth of the cemetery as a literal outdoor museum that includes educational signage which provides historical information about the true African American experience over more than 150 years. "Elevating such awareness can have a unifying community effect while reclaiming and celebrating a heritage that might otherwise be lost," says Gordon Walker, a Smith Cemetery board member.


The signage and other enhancements - benches, a display bulletin board, educational signage, and safer walkways - will create a distinctive and welcoming public place to encourage heightened civic engagement and acknowledge the cemetery as a preserved community asset.


On October 16, 2021, from 10:00 a.m. - 12 p.m., a ribbon cutting ceremony and celebration will take place at the cemetery located on East Leonard Street in Southport, across from the Lowe White Park. To learn more about the cemetery, visit or call 910-269-1370.


Office of Archives and History Department of Natural and Cultural Resources


The City of Southport made a resolution in support of the John N. Smith Cemetery

Restoration and Preservation, Inc.  The Cemetery was also recognized by the 

Historic Wilmington foundation and place on their "Most Threatened Historic

Places" list.


Resolution in Support from City of Southport

Historic Wilmington Foundation 2017 Most Threatened Historic
Places List"

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Awards: Clients
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