When Markeda Cottonham imagines what the Sweet Olive Cemetery deserves, she pictures a manicured landscape, dotted with tombstones and historical markers memorializing the thousands of preachers, soldiers, and everyday men and women — some of whom were once enslaved — who were buried here over more than a century.

Instead, Baton Rouge's oldest Black burial grounds is a blighted eyesore. Its tombs are overgrown with vegetation, cracked open and crumbling into pieces. The headstones — if they haven't toppled over — are well-worn and barely visible. A dented casket, rusted by the elements, sits exposed atop a pile of bricks.