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MAIN Arrow to EducationEducation Arrow to Black History MonthBlack History Month Arrow to Black History Month Civic Project Civic Project of the Month - Black History Month 2015

Lawson cemetary, Putnam, New York
The Lawson Cemetery as it appears today.

For a kid who once coordinated truckloads of donations to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it should come as no surprise.

James, now a 17-year old from suburban New York City, is now on the mission of his young adult life.

An active Boy Scout throughout his teen years, James is currently aiming to become an Eagle Scout. One of the requirements for becoming an Eagle Scout is a civic duty project - one that has meaning and long-lasting impact.

One day not long ago, James had an idea. He looked around his own neighborhood to discover an old, abandoned cemetery in dire need of repair. The few gravestones that remained were overturned, and the entire site resembled only a small clearing beside a heavily forested country road.

James decided that it was time to set things right.

All about the Lawson Cemetery

Bishop Robert C. Lawson
in an undated photo.

As James quickly learned, the Lawson Cemetery is where members of the Barger Street Settlement are laid to rest.

The settlement, established in the 1920's, provided a escape from the hot pavement of New York City for a community of African-Americans to cool their heels, relax and have fun.

It was was founded by Bishop Robert C. Lawson, who would later serve as an early leader in the 1950's Civil Rights Movement. In 1957, he spoke at the first March on Washington along with two other younger ministers -- Rev. Ralph J. Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Located in Putnam Valley, New York, the settlement remained a popular and peaceful summertime escape for decades, until after the Bishop's death in 1961.

When he passed, the Lawson settlement was still a thriving and relaxing place, a place where he decided he wanted his earthly remains to stay for eternity.

Unfortunately, the settlement declined in popularity and by the late-1960s it was largely abandoned.

How you can help

James, a Boy Scout on a mission.

Fifty years later, the Lawson cemetery, which consists of the remains of Bishop Lawson and his wife as well as 34 other members of his church, has fallen into a sad state of disrepair.

That's when James came into the picture.

Today, the Eagle Scout is on a mission: to plant grass and install flower beds, and place engraved granite stones with the names of those interred at the cemetery in a memorial garden to make up for the fact that many of the headstones are no longer there.

In order to do all of this, James needs funding. The final estimate is about $4,000. Each stone will cost $99, and James invites others with a passion for history to sponsor a stone. But if not, James says, "smaller donations are appreciated as well!"

Remember, every little bit helps.

If you would like to help restore and beautify a once-abandoned place of peace and rest for Lawson and his congregation, check out James' GoFundMe page at to find out more.

What better way to celebrate Black History Month in 2015?

With your donation you can make a bit of history yourself -- by helping James realize his dream of inspiring the living by providing a respectful resting place for those who have passed.

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