After years of neglect and vandalism, the historic Eden cemetery in Collingdale, in Delaware County, is in need of some tender, loving care.
Founded in 1902 as a place for African Americans to bury their dead, it is one of the oldest black cemeteries in the United States, and is a cultural treasure.
It is the final resting place for some of the region's most prominent African Americans, including opera singer Marian Anderson; civil rights leader Octavius Catto; Christopher J. Perry, founder of the Philadelphia Tribune; and track athlete John Baxter Taylor Jr., the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal.
But the hallowed grounds have not been treated with respect and dignity befitting a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 200 headstones were toppled in 2008. Others have been spray-painted with racist graffiti. Some nearby residents walk their dogs on the property, and contractors have dumped debris there as well.
Faced with tough economic times and a shortage of manpower, cemetery officials have been unable to properly maintain the grounds.
On Saturday, however, hundreds of volunteers are expected to fan out across the 53-acre cemetery to haul away debris, landscape the property, erect headstones, and paint the cemetery's massive wrought-iron gates.
The cleanup will take more than a day to complete. More volunteers are needed, said Todd Bernstein, who also spearheads the city's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Organizers hope to eventually transform the cemetery into an educational tourist attraction. That is a worthy goal.