3 weeks ago

Volunteers in Mobile working to save cemetery full of veterans from decades of neglect

A cemetery full of American military veterans was gradually overtaken by plants and other wildlife in the first part of the century, but a group of dedicated volunteers in Mobile has been working steadily to change that, with the goal of giving each service member the respect they deserve.

The group, which is now named Veterans Memorial Recovery Team (VMRT), began their work in 2017 and has made admirable progress. They say that just over 800 gravesites of veterans have been identified and properly reclaimed, but warn there is much more work still to be done.

Historic Oaklawn Cemetery, the location that had been neglected before the team of concerned citizens got involved, can trace its first burials to 1876. Historical records say as many as 10,000 people could be buried at the 22-acre site, which was almost lost to time before the VMRT began their work.

The Veterans Memorial Recovery Team meets for work on Saturday mornings from 8:00 a.m. until noon, and the individuals have created a 501(c)(3) charitable organization to which people who want to help the effort can donate.

A Facebook group dedicated to the effort has collected over 1,300 members. The VMRT clears the cemetery with a dedicated focus on finding the gravesites of service members.

Fran Barber-Bruyn, the vice president and secretary of the Veterans Memorial Recovery Team, told Yellowhammer News in a phone interview that the initial name for the effort to clean up the cemetery was “operation overload,” but said they have changed the name in the last year to help with the forming of the charity that allows them to collect donations.

The scope of the work cannot be overstated, as the decades of neglect that occurred as the land passed between owners took a serious toll on Oaklawn.

(Veterans Memorial Recovery Team/Facebook)

“We realized the size of the cemetery is 22 acres,” Barber-Bruyn said about the early days of the operation, adding that the group realized that to find all of the veterans buried at Oaklawn they must clear the entire area.

“Some of us are out there every Saturday, weather permitting,” Barber-Bruyn told Yellowhammer, noting that FOX10, the Coast Guard, JROTC, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and veteran-focused groups like the American Legion, Montford Point Marines, JAGVets and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association frequently dedicate Saturdays to helping clean up Oaklawn.

However, the group is also constantly on the lookout for more volunteers, as the crowd that shows up week in and week out is usually less than 10. Those wishing to volunteer can get in touch via Facebook.

“Right now, we’ve got about eight acres,” she remarked about the progress made reclaiming the cemetery. Barber-Bruyn advised that 2020 had been a tough year to make progress because of the coronavirus pandemic and abnormally wet weather in the area.

The location of the cemetery is 1850 Holt Rd, Mobile, AL.

Barber-Bruyn told Yellowhammer that U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) will soon replace the American flag that flies at the entrance with one that was once flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Oaklawn was formally made a community cemetery in 1931, and for the majority of its existence served as a resting place primarily for Mobile’s black citizens, though not exclusively.

Records indicate that veterans from every branch of the military are buried at Oaklawn, including those who served in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf Wars.

Among those buried include members of famous black military units like the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen, alongside many recipients of military medals like the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

A local chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers Association, a heritage group, has taken a leadership role in the effort to reclaim the cemetery. The Buffalo Soldiers were all-black units in the U.S. Army who first served in the Wild West following the civil war, and the nickname was later incorporated into black units who fought in WWI and WWII. It is believed the Buffalo Soldiers buried at Oaklawn are from the World Wars.

Barber-Bruyn further detailed to Yellowhammer the challenges faced by the initiative to restore the cemetery.

“Since we’ve been out there in 2018 there have been four vehicles burned in the cemetery,” she relayed.

“There is a lot of illegal activity at night. One of the main things we’re fighting is people that come in and dump their household garbage,” she continued.

A Korean War veteran with expertise in bricklaying recently helped the Recovery Team build a new brick gate at the entrance, which Barber-Bruyn says has helped relieve some of the littering.

(Fran Barber-Bruyn/Contributed)

 

The Veterans Memorial Recovery Team lists its mission as:

To restore dignity to those individuals interred at Historic Oaklawn Cemetery.

To understand and appreciate the contributions Veterans and community leaders have made and those that they continue to make, on behalf of their community and country.

To promote public interest in the service of Veterans to the United States during peacetime, time of war, or armed conflict.

To show respect to our military Veterans by identifying, documenting, and preserving the memory of those heroes from all branches of service, who sacrificed in trying times and became heroes and legends.

Donations can be made here.

“We’re not giving up. we’re there to honor out veterans,” Barber-Bruyn told Yellowhammer.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

37 mins ago

Jerry Carl visits White House, gets endorsed by President Trump in AL-01

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District, on Wednesday visited the White House and met in the Oval Office with President Donald J. Trump.

“It was an incredible honor to spend over half an hour in the Oval Office with President Trump and Vice President Pence today,” Carl said in a statement to Yellowhammer News.

After the visit, Trump in a tweet endorsed Carl for the Southwest Alabama congressional seat.

“He Loves our Veterans, Stands for Law & Order, and is Strong on Jobs and the Second Amendment. Jerry has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump wrote.

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“The President is focused not only on his own race, but also on down ballot races nationwide,” Carl told Yellowhammer News. “He cares about the people of Alabama, and we had a good conversation about issues that are affecting Alabama’s 1st District.”

“I’m looking forward to working with President Trump to address some of these critical issues – stopping the spread of socialism, supporting our law enforcement, and getting our economy back on track,” he concluded. “Thank you, President Trump!”

Carl will face Democrat James Averhart on November 3.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Sara Evans is a 2020 Woman of Impact

One of country music’s most popular artists of the 21st century, Sara Evans, has adopted Alabama as her own, and she is not slowing down.

Earlier in 2020, Evans released a new album, “Copy That,” where she covers 13 classic songs, and published a new memoir, Born to Fly.

She came to the Yellowhammer State after marrying former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker in 2008. They now make their home in the Birmingham area along with their seven children.

The singer performs and releases music under the name Sara Evans, which is how Yellowhammer News is referring to her for the purposes of this article. Evans does not shy away from her married name; just in 2019, she released a six-track EP titled “The Barker Family Band” which featured herself, her son Avery and daughter Olivia.

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Evans was born and raised outside of a small town in Missouri and began her lifelong connection with music at age four. She had recorded her first CD and was attending country music events by the age of 9 or 10, according to a 2011 interview.

Aspiring to a career in music, she moved to Nashville in 1991 and worked as a waitress while trying to find her big break.

“Three Chords and The Truth” and “No Place That Far,” Evans’ first two albums, were released in 1997 and 1998 respectively. They earned the artist solid reviews from critics but did not make a big impact on the charts.

“If I’m going to have the career I came to Nashville to find,” she told a newspaper at the time. “I’ve got to get on the radio and give today’s fans what they want.”

“Born to Fly,” the album that resulted from this change in sound, achieved everything Evans aimed to accomplish. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified it as double platinum; meaning it has sold over 2 million copies. Singles “Born to Fly” and “I Could Not Ask for More” placed first and second on the U.S. Country charts.

After the breakthrough success, Evans never left the country charts for very long over the next decade; buoyed by singles like “Suds in the Bucket” and “A Little Bit Stronger.”

Evans’ albums “Restless,” “Real Fine Place,” and “A Little Bit Stronger” are certified platinum and five more albums by Evans are certified gold.

She won Top Female Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2006.

Her five most popular songs available on the music streaming service Spotify have been played a combined 101,997,937 times.

Jerry Sharpe, a music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, described Evans as having a “a strong, spring-water clear voice, which she uses well.”

Evans met her now-husband when they were both in their 30s with kids. They were introduced by Joe Beam, a Christian speaker that focuses on love and marriage who knew them both previously.

“One defining moment was, I made the decision to walk into my office and email Jay Barker and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so told me that I should reach out to you. I want you to know that I’m praying for you, and I’m sorry for everything that you’ve been through,” Evans recounted to music website The Boot.

Barker was the starting quarterback on the Crimson Tide’s 1992 championship-winning team, and at the time when he and Evans connected they had both recently gone through painful divorces.

“He emailed me back within five minutes, and that was definitely a defining moment,” she added.

Evans brought three children to the new family, while Barker brought four.

“Our house is full of children and activities and chaos, but Jay is such a great support to me,” Evans told The Boot about her husband, who hosts a sports talk show in Birmingham.

Radio play by country music stations is dominated by male artists and programmed by male deejays, something that has frustrated Evans in recent years.

She has become an outspoken advocate for more women in country music and voices her opinions on the subject with regularity.

Evans has appeared at events and spoken up for the organization Change the Conversation that aims to gain more representation for women in country music.

“The lack of voices heard on country radio affect not only those who are making music, but those listening as well. Music plays a powerful role in shaping our popular culture. Today’s music does not reflect who we are as a country and sends the wrong message to our girls and women. Too often, country songs portray women as a pretty ornament on the passenger side. It is time to reclaim a woman’s place in the driver’s seat,” the organization says on its website.

Evans has remarked that for her most recent original studio work, the album “Words” released in 2017, she placed a greater emphasis on including female producers and songwriters to give their careers a boost.

At a Change the Conversation event in 2017, Evans said, “When I first got my record deal, women were dominating country radio. We had Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Patty Loveless and on and on. I was fortunate enough to join that group of amazing women.”

“[W]e need to change the conversation and figure out why it is not that way anymore. Why are there not enough women on country radio? Women artists are amazing and they have so much great music that we want to hear and we need to hear, so let’s change the conversation,” she urged.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Sara Evans a 2020 Woman of Impact.

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently announced the third annual Women of Impact Awards. Honorees are being featured on Yellowhammer News each weekday through October 1. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

4 hours ago

Baldwin County residents throw parade for linemen amid recovery heroics

Southwest Alabama residents are celebrating the heroic linemen and support personnel who have traveled from across the country to restore utility services following Hurricane Sally last week.

WKRG reported that Fairhope residents on Tuesday night held a short parade downtown to express their appreciation for the power crews.

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The parade reportedly featured bucket trucks honking, with linemen inside waving, to those residents who took their time to line Section Street.

Alabama Power Company has restored power to its service area as of Sunday night, and Energy Institute of Alabama members continue to lead the charge restoring service to Baldwin County electric cooperative members, which was hardest hit by the slow-moving category 2 hurricane.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Shadowy web of 20 ‘news’ sites operating in Alabama, tied to national network that invented quotes, bylines

A shadowy group of websites masquerading as local news agencies has been launched ahead of November’s high-stakes general election.

An investigation by Yellowhammer News uncovered the existence of “Yellowhammer Times,” which purports to be a statewide news organization intended “to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.” The site’s “people” section, where one would expect its employees to be listed, is blank.

“We provide 100% original reporting, including to share as much data as possible from government and other publicly available sources,” the site claims. “We also provide a platform for all citizens whose views on issues are rarely heard. If you want a voice in your community, we want to hear from you.”

The website is admittedly owned and operated by Metric Media LLC and its parent Metric Media Foundation, a Missouri-based entity just granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status last year. Publicly available data shows that Metric Media has not yet revealed having any assets, income or revenue through mandatory IRS filings. This means that at this point in time, the organization is effectively operating as a dark money group.

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Metric Media has a glitzy website that asserts, “Metric Media is funded by donations and grants from contributors who care about restoring local news in their communities.”

The website does list a three-person board of directors, which is reportedly chaired by San Francisco-based Rakesh Donthineni. The other named directors are Victor Chen of Los Angeles and Brent Southwell of Houston. Chen formerly worked for then-Beijing TV China, an entity of Beijing Media Network — which is owned and operated by the Chinese government, otherwise known as the Chinese Communist Party.

Metric Media’s explicit presence in Alabama does not stop at the statewide Yellowhammer Times. The bottom of this website links to 18 more sites, all appearing to be local or regional news agencies across the state. These publications are identical in format to Yellowhammer Times and are as follows: Auburn Times, Baldwin Times, Decatur Times, East Central Alabama News, Gadsden Today, Huntsville Leader, Jefferson Reporter, Mobile Courant, NE Alabama News, NW Alabama News, North Birmingham Times, River Region Times, Shoals Today, South Alabama Times, South Birmingham Times, Tuscaloosa Leader, West Central Alabama News and Wiregrass Times.

Publicly available domain information shows that these sites were all registered in May of this year.

That same month, Yellowhammer Times published its first “original story,” which was about COVID-19 related liability issues. The author is listed as a “T.H. Lawrence.”

Almost every story posted since then has been a completely automated story, mainly using RSS feeds to populate the stories on the site. This includes republishing press releases from Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama State University and the University of Alabama. The automated stories also include a lot of identical templates that simply display federal government-released data.

In all, Yellowhammer Times as of Wednesday at noon hosted more than 2,300 stories on the site — with only two listing a human author. The automated stories name “Metric Media News Service” or other entities such as “Locality Labs News Service” as the author.

One short story about lost Alabama tax revenue related to the pandemic simply does not list an author.

The second story to actually list an author, Juliette Fairley, advocated in July to fully reopen the economy and return students to school in the fall. This story was based on exclusive quotes from Alabama-based John Chamberlain, board chairman for Citizen Health. Citizen Health advocates for subscription-based medical services and disrupting the healthcare industry.

Yellowhammer News dug into the two authors listed on the site. Fairley is a national freelance author specializing in finance, while T.H. Lawrence’s name popped up across several sites in Metric Media’s network of more than 1,000 sites nationwide.

Yellowhammer News’ investigation also uncovered that T.H. Lawrence is indeed Tom Lawrence, a career journalist from South Dakota who was once executive editor of the state’s Black Hills Pioneer. He is now a freelance writer and blogger, appearing in local publications (under his real name) such as the Dakota Free Press, American News and South Dakota Standard. He also has his own blog, the Prairie Perspective. It should be noted that American News is owned by national conglomerate Gannett.

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) in December 2019 published an in-depth investigative report that revealed some disturbing findings about Metric Media and its related entities, including Locality Labs. The investigation concluded that the network can be traced back to Illinois-based businessman and conservative activist Brian Timpone.

CJR was able to find at least 450 sites, all linked, operating under the banners of Metric Media, Locality Labs, Franklin Archer, the Record Inc. and Local Government Information Services. The entities at times — while being aimed at different states — shared IP addresses, Google Analytics IDs and other technical identifiers. Since December, the network has more than doubled in size, according to Metric Media’s own website.

CJR further traced Locality Lab’s origin story. The entity was once known as Timpone’s company “Journatic.” Journatic had to rebrand in 2013 following a national scandal over “faking bylines and quotes, and for plagiarism,” per CJR.

The CJR report followed a story published in October 2019 by a Michigan paper about Metric Media’s network that had popped up in that state. More local and national reporting followed, including by the New York Times and Guardian.

Yellowhammer Times republishes stories from other named entities in this Metric Media web, as well. For example, the publication ran a story from Empire State Today of New York.

This also includes another Alabama-focused site not directly linked at the bottom of Yellowhammer Times. Alabama Business Daily stories are republished on the site, and CJR previously reported there is an identical entity curated by Metric Media in each state. Yellowhammer News found that Alabama Business Daily’s domain was registered in February 2018.

With the 2020 election rapidly approaching, the existence of this network of sites in Alabama should raise alarm bells across the state.

Alabama was already besieged in the 2017 special election cycle by “Project Birmingham,” which utilized “Russian tactics” by Democratic operatives to aid the campaign of then-Democratic nominee Doug Jones.

Alabamians will hope that this type of disinformation campaign is not repeated this time around through Metric Media or its sister entities.

Secretary of State John H. Merrill has previously warned residents to arm themselves with the truth and to be wary of unknown sources spread on social media, especially.

“It is of paramount importance that the 4.8 million people who make up our state are informed with up-to-date, complete, and accurate information,” Merill has said in a statement. “All election-related information should come directly from our website or from your local election official. We are your trusted source for information related to the elections process.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

Ivey, Orr and Battle team up for virtual groundbreaking for School of Cyber Technology and Engineering campus

Ground was broken on the new campus for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (ASCTE) on Wednesday, and prominent officials in Alabama delivered virtual addresses about the importance of the new institution.

The ASCTE is a magnet high school open to students from any of Alabama’s 137 public school districts. Located in Alabama’s cyber capital of Huntsville, attendees live on campus in a boarding environment.

Governor Kay Ivey, State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, the three public officials most involved in making ASCTE happen, spoke at the groundbreaking for the new campus.

ASCTE’s first crop of students enrolled this fall. They are currently taking classes in facilities on the campus of Oakwood University. The cyber school will move to the permanent campus that began construction on Wednesday upon its completion.

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(Huntsville Chamber of Commerce/Contributed)

According to materials provided by the school, ASCTE is the first cyber-focused school of its type in the country.

Orr sponsored the legislation to create ASCTE and now chairs its board of trustees.

The lawmaker from Decatur recounted that soon after he embraced the idea of a cyber-focused magnet school, he approached the governor and “she immediately saw the value.” Orr also praised the “support we got from the mayor’s office” as he and a team were putting together the project.

Ivey, who has made education a priority of her administration and in the last week created a STEM council, joined the virtual groundbreaking from her office in Montgomery.

“We must provide our state’s children with meaningful opportunities to pursue careers in STEM fields to ensure a prosperous Alabama of tomorrow,” Ivey remarked during her speech.

Battle was thanked in his introduction by Alicia Ryan, ASCTE Board of Trustees vice-chair, for creating the Cyber Huntsville initiative in 2010 and for his general support of the atmosphere that made the Rocket City fitting for a technology-focused school.

“Today begins a new chapter for Huntsville,” began Battle, who praised the “collaborative effort” that brought ASCTE into being and thanked Orr and Ivey by name.

“Welcome to Huntsville,” he told the assembled students who were watching via telecast.

Raytheon Technologies, a defense contractor with a strong presence in the Rocket City, is ASCTE’s most supportive corporate partner. The company donated $4 million to help get the school off the ground and was a partner in Wednesday’s groundbreaking. All public officials who spoke thanked the business multiple times.

“Our nation has a significant cyber talent gap,” remarked Wes Kramer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, in talking about why investing in ASCTE was good for his company and the nation.

Matt Massey, a former superintendent of the Madison County School System, is the president of ASCTE and tasked with both leading the current iteration of the school and preparing it for the future.

ASCTE plans to go from the 72 students currently enrolled to over 350 by 2024.

Phillip Thomas (left) speaks on ASCTE groundbreaking (ASCTE/Screenshot)

One of those students currently enrolled, Phillip Thomas, spoke at the groundbreaking on Wednesday.

“Coming to this school was the best decision I have ever made,” he began.

Thomas assured those listening that the residential staff was top-notch and the boarding environment was welcoming and comfortable.

“I came here to further advance my path to engineering and cyber career opportunities, and this school is one of a kind in that regard,” he continued.

The freshman said his plan was to eventually earn advanced degrees in the fields in which ASCTE is giving him a robust primary education.

“The future of this world relies on technological advances, and I am excited to play a role in that innovation. Thanks to ASCTE, I will achieve these goals,” Thomas concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95