October 7, 2022

Story originally published in ABC11.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) — A historic public cemetery in Durham is running out of space but work is underway to solve the problem.

Traveling from Virginia to Durham on Wednesday, Tatiyana Manguel left flowers at the graves at Beechwood Cemetery to honor the generations that came before her

“I came here to visit my grandmother,” Manguel said. “Along with my great grandmother, and my aunts and uncles.

Manguel, who found out her family was laid to rest in a historically black cemetery, was proud.

“I think that’s awesome,” Manguel said. “I can better understand why they chose this cemetery, because our whole family was based in Jacksonville, North Carolina. My grandmother was from here, but that was it.”

Beechwood Cemetery is one of two public cemeteries in Durham. The other is Maplewood Cemetery, which spans 120 acres and is historically white. The two separate locations were a result of Durham’s segregated past, according to FUSE, which will partner with the city’s general services department to have an executive fellow work on an expansion project for the cemetery.

Beechwood Cemetery, which spans 25 acres, is running out of space, according to the City of Durham.

“As we look to develop our land and how we do it in a thoughtful and sustainable way, we began to look at what some of the communities in the country are doing — as far as other alternatives to traditional burials,” director Jina Propst said.

The cemetery has 18 lots available, and the project would provide 390 more.

However, with limited availability for traditional burials, families may have to consider using a private cemetery instead, which can add to costs.

“More than $10,000 or something, more than that,” David White said about how much it costs to bury a loved one.

White, who also lives in Virginia, said the prices go up every year, making it more difficult for families, especially ones without insurance.

“The family is stuck with trying to scrape whatever it takes to get to the coffin, the burial, everything,” White said. “The funeral, it’s very expensive.”

A columbarium garden project is also underway at Beechwood Cemetery. That project will provide 500 spaces for cremains.

“The purpose of our columbarium garden is to provide another option for burials,” Propst said. “It is a way to also maximize space but also offer a different burial option, a different price point as well.”

Green Burial Council said cremation demand has been high the last three years.

“Likely significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Caitlyn Hauke said. “The pandemic really pushed cremation to the forefront.”

Propst said it will be a year-long process, that will include engaging with the community, for the city to determine what’s best for the future of Beechwood Cemetery.

“The main reason is that we have a very diverse community and diversity also finds its way in cultural and religious practices,” Propst said. “We would like to be responsive and thoughtful about that in order to provide a variety of what different cultures and community members are looking for in burial options.”