Community unites to restore neglected Saint Austin cemetery in Mobile

Published: Sep. 16, 2023 at 11:01 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A local military veteran is helping cleanup a hidden cemetery in Mobile where he says other veterans are buried. FOX10′s Ahniaelyah Spraggs has more on the property dubbed the “Forgotten Cemetery.”

Beyond a thick tree line in Mobile is Saint Austin Cemetery. With no proper entrance and trees, trash and lots of debris covering the 9-acre plot, locals are teaming up to clean up the area.

“There are people that come up here but this is as far as they can go,” said Eddie Irby, President and Founder of the 92nd Infantry division of Buffalo Soldiers of World War II.

“There’s some trees that are down that are rotted, and we’ll get all that removed, get all the ground smoothed out ‘cus there’s some holes and things where animals have dug holes,” explained Wesley Wheeler.

The land stretches from Osage Street to South Craft Highway off of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. As for how the cemetery ended up like this…“God, that’s something that we’re trying to figure out,” said Irby, who’s in charge of cleanup efforts. “In fact, that’s where I found my father’s grave back there.”

This is not the first time Irby has helped clean up a cemetery in Mobile. He’s also been involved in efforts to restore Oaklawn cemetery, a three-minute drive away.

“The same type of people buried here is like buried at Oaklawn – civil rights leaders Tuskegee Airmen, Buffalo Soldiers, the whole nine yards,” said Irby.

To survey the property Saturday morning, Irby and a crew created a makeshift entrance on one side.

“We’re gonna go through and remove all the small underbrush, take down these smaller trees, remove all the debris that’s back through here .. and then do a privacy fence down each way,” said Wheeler. “So, it’s safe for everybody to be able to access the property towards the back where the headstones are.”

“I’ll help with any clearance,” said Josh Burks. “But my main mission is to maintain and keep the grounds looking pristine and honoring Mobile and the families.” He’s a disabled veteran who was the first person to sign up to volunteer. “I served 2003, 2008, adobe the knee amputee. That’s not going to stop me helping other vets.

Once cleanup is finished, they will place a flag that represents each Military branch at its new entrance.

Irby says crews plan to start cleanup in November. They are also currently raising money for gravesite flags for soldiers buried at both cemeteries and a plaque at Saint Austin’s entrance.