Town of Montgomery holds ceremony at African American Cemetery

By Jared Castañeda
Posted 2/14/24

Residents, officials, and members of SPOMA gathered last Saturday at the Town of Montgomery’s African American burial, located on Route 416, to honor the site and its ancestor during …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Town of Montgomery holds ceremony at African American Cemetery


Residents, officials, and members of SPOMA gathered last Saturday at the Town of Montgomery’s African American burial, located on Route 416, to honor the site and its ancestor during SPOMA’s fourth annual wreath ceremony.

SPOMA, or Sacred Place of My Ancestors, was established to maintain the African American cemetery across from Medline’s facility. The burial site comprises 171 grave markers and was used by slaves and African Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries, with the earliest marker dated 1756.

The cemetery was recognized as a National Landmark in 1995 and since then, SPOMA has received grant money from the Town of Montgomery and the National Endowment for the Arts to preserve the site for current and future generations.

“Since February 2021, we have conducted these ceremonies at this local African and indigenous burial site to celebrate their legacies, to realize the lives that came before us that paved the way for us to be here,” said Mercedes Ortiz, a SPOMA Guardian.

The ceremony opened with an African libation led by Baba Terry, a member of the African Cultural Center of the Greater Hudson Valley, followed by a prayer from Willie Carley, a Walden trustee and pastor of the Tabernacle of Faith Christian Fellowship. New York State Assemblyman Brian Maher and Senator Rob Rolison then discussed the burial site’s development and expressed their enthusiasm to help SPOMA make their plans a reality.

“Brian brought me over here, and I’ve been to Medline for the solar panels on the roof. I didn’t know about this, and once I saw it and felt it, we walked around and knew this is a special place,” Rolison said. “I’m glad to be able to take part in this today with all of you. You have done so much to make sure that this place stays accessible.”

​​“We represent this historic site, and it is going to be part of our responsibility to work with the town and SPOMA the committee and so many folks all across the State of New York to identify this location and beautify it,” Maher said. “People from all walks of life, no matter what color you are, have been brought together in a safe space to have discussions that bring us closer together instead of divide us further apart.”

Vinnie Bagwell, a guest speaker and lead artist of the cemetery’s development, explained how art represents people and their history and serves as a guideline for present and future citizens.

“History is the memory of people, and art defines who were are as people and provides an account of our history,” Bagwell said. “A lot of times, people don’t understand the power of art in public places, so it provides an account for future generations. Because if you don’t have anything to back to, how do you know how to go forward?”

Isaiah Tejada, president of the Valley Central High School Cultural Diversity Club, spoke about the importance of Black History Month, highlighting figures that created momentous changes in the United States.

“We recognize the countless ways that African Americans have left on society through their courage and bravery,” he said. “Their contributions are a reminder of the powers individuals can yield and advocate for. And by remembering to show celebration of our past, you continue to create a more equitable future.”

Historian Michael Van DerVoort and NAACP Chapter Vice President Kyle Conway, both SPOMA Guardians, discussed the significance of the burial site’s preservation and how these efforts have brought everyone together under a unified cause.

“A group of community members within the Hudson Valley joined to revitalize Montgomery’s Colored Cemetery on County Route 416. A committee of individuals all with their own unique political, social, cultural, and moral values,” Van DerVoort said. “But we come together as a collective, surrendering all titles and affiliations, to commune and organize as fellow human beings.”

“The Town of Montgomery has taken a leadership role that will begin in Orange County,” Conway said. “In a dynamic and permanent fashion that will allow our descendants to be proud that we are on the right side of history. Or the side of history that chooses to keep all Americans connected with each other and caring to keep everyone connected.”

The ceremony concluded with a recording of Lift Every Voice and Sing, also known as the Black National Anthem, followed by encouragement from Bagwell for residents to support the cemetery however they can.

“Whatever you can do to help us, please contact your local supervisor,” Bagwell said.

Interested in donating to SPOMA or learning more about the cemetery and its future? Contact or visit the Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan at