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Historic Black cemetery in Dauphin County lands on National Register of Historic Places

The cemetery was founded in 1795.

DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. — Midland Cemetery in Swatara Township is marked by years: the year it was founded—1795, the years people buried there were born and died, and the 32 years Barbara Barksdale has been working to preserve its history as a Black cemetery.

Barksdale, known as “the cemetery lady,” has spent decades studying the history buried in the cemetery. Now the cemetery has been recognized in the National Register of Historic Places.

“This is worth saving and salvaging and making sure we’re preserving it,” Barksdale said.

Before she could work on restoring the site, though, Barksdale had to save it from being destroyed. Around 1990, the cemetery was overgrown with weeds and condemned, she said.

“It would have been a place where they were going to place housing at one time,” she said. “But now it is preserved and restored.”

The restoration took years and happened with the help of many people and groups, including Friends of Midland Cemetery, the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps, Team Rubicon and the Swatara Township Police Department.

“We take great pride in getting to know our neighbors and Miss Barbara Barksdale has done a wonderful job preserving this property and ensuring that people can come here and pay their respects,” said Cpl. Brandon Pokrop, who added that police have helped deter vandalism of the tombstones and other criminal activity. 

“The least that we can do is partner with her and not only assist her to help her with upkeep, but also make sure that it’s a safe place to go to," he continued.

The Friends of Midland Cemetery are now raising funds for an official historical marker, which costs up to $1,000.

Meanwhile, work continues on the cemetery’s upkeep and historical record. Barksdale is researching the identities of some of the hundreds of people—many enslaved—who were buried in the cemetery under unmarked wooden crosses.

“No matter who they are or what they were, we’re trying to make sure that they’re acknowledged as a human being and that they were part of the American dream.”

Friends of Midland Cemetery invite the public to see the cemetery at their Memorial Day celebration on May 27 at 1 p.m.

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