By James Barchanowicz
Greenview Cemetery in Blackstone, Va., is located just outside Fort Pickett, a military reserve training facility and home to the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) that provides lifesaving security training to Department of State personnel and members of the foreign affairs community. One day in April 2021, FASTC Driving Instructor James Barchanowicz made a discovery while driving down a rural road. He came across an unnamed gravel road just off the main roadway, and found himself in a small forest outlined by another dirt road.
Barchanowicz enjoys checking out local cemeteries as the headstones often seem to tell a story on their own. As he ventured down that dirt road in Blackstone, traveling beyond a newer cemetery, he entered a small patch of woods and noticed the graves of soldiers and their family members dating as far back as the mid-1800s.
“What I found left me heartbroken,” said Barchanowicz. “For those who were laid to rest on these hallowed grounds seem to have been forgotten and nature had claimed their headstones.”
Additionally, the graves and the tombstones were badly damaged by illegal dumping of trash, tires, and other refuse. The tombstones also appeared to have been driven over by vehicles, causing many of them to fall over and break apart.
Barchanowicz decided that he needed to do something to save this cemetery and its history from being destroyed. He contacted local officials including the mayor, members of law enforcement, town council, as well as the Blackstone Chamber of Commerce,. to raise funds for a mass cleanup.
Barchanowicz’s efforts began what is known as the Greenview Cemetery Project. With assistance from the town of Blackstone, the project has brought people together from both the Department’s FASTC and the local town. Since locating the first gravestone, Barchanowicz, along with volunteers, have uncovered more than 1,000 graves that had been lost to nature. The project is also working to confirm that the cemetery is one of the largest historic African American cemeteries in the country, as graves are continually located. The project can be followed on Facebook @greenviewcemeteryproject. Learn more by contacting the project via email.
James Barchanowicz is an instructor in the Driver Training Unit at the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Blackstone, Va.