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Many more graves discovered at Gospel Pilgrim (Athens, GA)
Athens Banner-Herald ^ | 9/13/03 | Don Nelson

Posted on 09/13/2003 6:28:06 AM PDT by honeygrl

Story last updated at 1:52 a.m. on Saturday, September 13, 2003

Many more graves discovered at Gospel Pilgrim Surprising find at cemetery

By Don Nelson don.nelson@onlineathens.com

Crawling through thick underbrush on their hands and knees, members of an archaeological team recently discovered an estimated 3,000 grave sites at historic Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in East Athens.

That's three times the number contained in previous estimates of the number of African Americans laid to rest in the 10-acre cemetery off Fourth Street.

Vincent White, project manager for the East Athens Development Corp. and administrative project manager for the effort to preserve Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, said experts had expected to find no more than 1,000 graves in the cemetery.

A 10-year-old Clarke County cemetery directory lists only 126 tombstones at Gospel Pilgrim.

''The community will be overwhelmed when they hear there were that many graves out there,'' White said. ''We were expecting, when we cleaned this up, we could get more graves in there, but that may not be the case. No one had any idea it would be that many.''

Athens-based Southeastern Archaeological Services conducted the recent field study, which was done over about a 30-day period, according to company Vice President Chad Braley.

The Gospel Pilgrim Society, a membership group which offered burial insurance, founded the cemetery in 1882 on land purchased from Elizabeth Talmadge.

The cemetery holds the remains of many influential and prominent African Americans from Athens, including Alfred Richardson and Madison Davis, the county's first African-American state legislators.

Pathways on Gospel Pilgrim's 10 acres look like woodland trails disappearing into thick foliage and overhanging tree boughs. Though attractive, the lush greenery signifies decades of neglect of the sacred ground.

''The vegetation was so thick in order to get through some places we had to crawl through, in others we walked,'' Braley said of the field study.

The archaeological team didn't make an exact count of the graves.

''It wasn't our goal to locate each and every one,'' Braley explained. ''That would have taken a lot more time. Our goal was to get a rough estimate and identify roads for clearing. Later, volunteers will get a more accurate count.''

State Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond spearheaded early efforts to clean up and protect the historic cemetery, and through a $100,000 labor department grant administered by the EADC, a preservation project was begun.

The Jaeger Co., a preservation and architectural consulting firm with offices in Athens and Gainesville, was recruited to help coordinate preservation and maintenance. They subcontracted with Southeastern for the field study.

''It's a fabulous project for cemeteries and for Athens,'' said Tevi Henson, preservation planner with the Jaeger Co.'s Gainesville office.

White said the field study identified and counted the visible grave sites and located the 15-foot wide roadways leading into the cemetery. The cemetery has a main entrance and four pathways, he said.

''We'll give that report to the architect for developing a strategic plan for cleanup and for clearing the roadways and the site,'' White said.

He added that the wide pathways need to be cleared to determine if any graves are in those avenues.

''The density is so thick it's hard to tell,'' White said. ''It will take a serious campaign to really clear those pathways. Once we've tackled that, it'll be easier to go in and start clearing the grave sites.''

White said the next phase of preservation includes development of a training plan for potential contractors for clearing the roadways, a process he described as ''very delicate.''

Henson said she expects to have a training strategy designed by the end of October. White hopes the actual work will be completed by the end of the year.

In the meantime, the Landscape Club of the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences agreed Friday to make the cemetery a service project. Next month, the club will begin helping with roadway clearing.

The $100,000 grant administered by the EADS has been used to commission D&D Lawn Service to help keep the existing pathways clear until a comprehensive plan is created and implemented, White said.

D&D has hired five people to help with that maintenance. The grant proposal calls for eventually employing 10 people to maintain the grounds.

White also said the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has sent the EADC a letter indicating support for designating Gospel Pilgrim as an historic site.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; US: Georgia
KEYWORDS: archaeology; cemetery; economic; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history; restoration

Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery off Fourth Street may contain as many as 3,000 graves, according to a recent study by an archaeological services company. Allen Sullivan/Staff




Ivy grows on a headstone in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery. Vincent White, project manager of the East Athens Development Corporation, said revised estimates put the number of graves in the cemetery at about 3,000. Work will begin on October to clean up the overgrown roads on the land, he said. Allen Sullivan/Staff


Vincent White, project manager with the East Athens Development Corp., stands at the gate of Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery off Fourth Street. The cemetery, final resting place for many of Athens' prominent African-American citizens, is being restored with help from a state grant. Allen Sullivan/Staff
1 posted on 09/13/2003 6:28:06 AM PDT by honeygrl
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To: honeygrl
I've lived here all my life and never even knew that graveyard existed.
2 posted on 09/13/2003 6:28:33 AM PDT by honeygrl
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To: mhking
B/C ping? The graveyard is graves of only black people as I understood the article. I don't really know much of the history of this graveyard, but it says it was created in 1882 so I can only assume they had whites only and blacks only graveyards then?
3 posted on 09/13/2003 6:32:29 AM PDT by honeygrl
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To: honeygrl
http://www.visitathensga.com/afr_amer_tour.cfm

Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery
The cemetery was established in 1882 for Athenians of African descent as a result of a burial insurance program called The Gospel Pilgrim Lodge. Members paid a dime a week to be guaranteed a big funeral. Prominent Athenians with grave sites at Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery include Charles S. Lyons, Sr., school principal; Monroe “Pink” Morton, prominent businessman; newspaperman William Pledger; and Madison “Matt” Davis, a former slave who became a Georgia legislator during Reconstruction and Athens’ first black postmaster. To commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday in January 2002, Michael Thurmond and local volunteers held a cleanup day at the cemetery.

4 posted on 09/13/2003 6:35:31 AM PDT by EllaMinnow (#213 of the 537.)
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To: honeygrl
Pretty interesting story. I'm going to try to visit it next time I'm in Athens.
But I never knew before that it even existed.
5 posted on 09/13/2003 6:37:25 AM PDT by EllaMinnow (#213 of the 537.)
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To: honeygrl
From that time period, it wouldn't be unusual in any state.
6 posted on 09/13/2003 6:37:57 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: honeygrl
Graveyards are fascinating.

Some of the most fascinating I've seen are in Louisiana at the old Catholic graveyards.

I've even seen crypts caved in and the skeletel contents of graves well over two hundred years old exposed.

With the decline in family values and the gradual disintegration of the family being the core of American culture, graveyards are falling into vast disrepair - just as the Family is.

7 posted on 09/13/2003 6:40:26 AM PDT by Happy2BMe (LIBERTY has arrived in Iraq - Now we can concentrate on HOLLYWEED!)
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To: redlipstick
Less than 200 of them even had gravestones. It would be nice if the *cough* NAACP *cough* would chalk up some money for some headstones. But I wouldn't hold my breath.
8 posted on 09/13/2003 6:41:47 AM PDT by honeygrl
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To: honeygrl
This is a tremendous project, but isn't it disheartening that a worthwhile effort like this gets $100,000 of public money, while some researcher out there trying to find a link between french fries and cancer in mice is getting millions? This restoration deserves a LOT more support.
9 posted on 09/13/2003 6:42:59 AM PDT by JennysCool
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To: honeygrl
I wonder if it would be at all possible to find out who some of those in unmarked graves are.

I've explored the old Athens cemetery that's right on the edge of the UGA campus - over near Baldwin Street - I don't know the name of it. There are some beautiful stones, but most are crumbling to pieces.
10 posted on 09/13/2003 6:47:31 AM PDT by EllaMinnow (#213 of the 537.)
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To: honeygrl

Many of the plots are overgrown.

11 posted on 09/13/2003 6:49:17 AM PDT by facedown (Armed in the Heartland)
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To: honeygrl
The Gospel Pilgrim Society, a membership group which offered burial insurance, founded the cemetery in 1882 on land purchased from Elizabeth Talmadge.

1882 isn't that old for a cemetery so why is it all but forgotten? I'm sure you're not the only one who's lived there all you lives who didn't know anything about it. According to the map, it's right next to another cemetery (white?) and a church. Is the church white or black? Why didn't the church keep it up? Why don't the families of these so called "prominent Athens' African-American citizens" care about their parents and grandparents enough to visit and take care of their graves? 3,000 relatives! Dayum, are they French?!? Why doesn't the insurance company have records of who is buried and where? And why, for heaven's sake, do they have to get state grant monies to clear it out??? I know the journalist intended for this to be a feel-good piece and the, cough, "good" citizens of Athens are patting themselves on their backs for doing such a good deed, but I find it deplorable and disgusting. In Texas, most of the cemeteries (yes, I'm sure someone can name one or two that are the exception) are maintained by the families or the community. Where I'm going to be resting is in podunkville but the small community gets together every Mother's Day at the cemetery to do whatever work is needed beyond the usual grounds keeping. Even the small family and community cemeteries that are no longer in use (you know what I mean) are maintained by either the current land owners, the historical society, or neighbors and these are older than 1882.

12 posted on 09/13/2003 6:55:47 AM PDT by mtbopfuyn
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To: redlipstick
Maybe once the archeological team is done they will be able to give more info on that? Or maybe there are records somewhere showing who is buried there? I'm not sure how all that works really. I think helping out on this project would be great for someone who has time for volunteer work helping to clear the brush. If I didn't have 2 kids in diapers, I'd offer help myself. My poor kids don't know what they are in for when they get big enough to help people.. I'll have them volunteered along with myself on everything that that interests me whether they like it or not. Then, I've promised their grandparents who have a farm they they can have the kids for the summer when they are old enough to help out instead of get in the way. Atleast they'll know the meaning of work!
13 posted on 09/13/2003 7:07:17 AM PDT by honeygrl
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To: mtbopfuyn
I was wondering the same things as I read the article. I love old cemeteries, etc., but if the families and the community don't care enough about the cemetery to keep it up, why should my tax dollars be spent on it?
14 posted on 09/13/2003 7:09:19 AM PDT by Amelia
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To: mtbopfuyn
The other cemetary is likely mixed but I don't know for sure. There are two main cemetaries in town and neither of those are one of them. I have a feeling though this one will be a main one when everything is said and done. It's a shame that the relatives of these people didn't even try to do anything about it sooner that I am aware of. I haven't seen news of it in the paper at all.
15 posted on 09/13/2003 7:09:46 AM PDT by honeygrl
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To: honeygrl
It would be nice if the *cough* NAACP *cough* would chalk up some money for some headstones. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

To continue my rant from post #12. I'm big time into genealogy and have visited cemeteries from Virginia to Texas and though we might have had to crawl through brambles to get to cemeteries, they've been in good shape. I know folks who either have family or are just kind-hearted who have made simple cement markers/blocks for unmarked graves. They have drawn in the wet cement the known info just so it won't be forgotten. Sometimes they'll put maybe a rock or cement curb around known family lots or at least mark the corners. It's not costly or rocket science, it just requires a little respect. Those family members of the Athens' cemetery should be ashamed.

16 posted on 09/13/2003 7:21:40 AM PDT by mtbopfuyn
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To: honeygrl
About 20 years ago my father was director of a Scout camp, up in the mountains in Virginia. My brothers and I went to visit for a week one year after the campers had left for a season. We fished, boated all over the lake, and hiked around the grounds some. Two incidents stand out:

The USGS topo map of the area showed a small graveyard near the top of one of the hills. With some effort, one of my brothers and I hiked up there. We found a double plot fenced in with a cast-iron fence, about 12 x 12. There were two gravestones there dating back from the early 1800's. They were quite legible. There were also footstones with initials on them at the ends of the graves. No signs of vandalism. Two trees were growing out of the graves, one large (I'd say 50 to 100 years old) and one much smaller. We looked at the stones for a while, speculated on what kinds of lives the married couple occupying them might have had spanning the 18th and early 19th century living there on a farm, and left.

Later on I was walking near a maintenance shed that was near the program areas of the camp, but out of the way. While hiking along I stumbled in a rocky area. They were a bunch of sharp rocks embedded in the ground. I'd been walking around without noting them, as it was a rocky area. But my fall caused me to look at them closely. I found a number of them that had names and 18th century dates scratched in them, not too legibly, but there. I asked the caretaker about them. These would be the graves of early inhabitants. I asked him, "Why aren't they being taken care of?" "The families died out long ago," he told me. Still didn't seem right.
17 posted on 09/13/2003 7:24:41 AM PDT by RonF
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To: RonF
It is a shame. One would think that caring for that 'forgotten' group of graves would be high on the scouting list. A day's hike, do a good deed, show respect, and learn what life was like back then. If nothing else, earn a badge. Perhaps you could encourage the scout camp or get your local den to campaign for something to be done.
18 posted on 09/13/2003 7:33:33 AM PDT by mtbopfuyn
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To: mtbopfuyn
One would think that caring for that 'forgotten' group of graves would be high on the scouting list.

It's entirely possible that at the point in time I stumbled over them, I and the caretaker I commented to were the only people in camp who knew there were graves there. Scouts were forbidden from the area, as it was near the maintenance shed and there was heavy equipment about, and the only reason I noticed them was that I tripped and fell on them. Otherwise, it just looked like rocky ground. These were natural rocks, not shaped in any way, nor were they arranged in any regular fashion. The inscriptions were only visible on very close inspection and were partially buried. I should talk to my dad about it.

19 posted on 09/13/2003 7:39:26 AM PDT by RonF
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To: mtbopfuyn
"Those family members of the Athens' cemetery should be ashamed. "

You got that right. It seems like it would be a great project for some large church here to take on though. Aren't churches supposed to do good works for the community? I don't think many here do much. Most are more worried about their "building fund" than any community projects.
20 posted on 09/13/2003 7:45:29 AM PDT by honeygrl
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To: RonF
The inscriptions were only visible on very close inspection and were partially buried. I should talk to my dad about it.

If nothing else, if the inscriptions could be transcribed and posted to Rootsweb or USGenweb, there are genealogists somewhere who would appreciate it greatly.

21 posted on 09/13/2003 8:11:47 AM PDT by Amelia
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To: JennysCool
This restoration deserves a LOT more support.

Agreed. Is there some place where a retired fat guy could contribute a few bucks toward their cause?

22 posted on 09/13/2003 8:23:42 AM PDT by geedee (Hillary and Beelzebub were conjoined twins.)
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To: geedee
"Agreed. Is there some place where a retired fat guy could contribute a few bucks toward their cause? "

I emailed the man who wrote the article asking him if there was a fund to donate to for the restoration on the graveyard and also asked if there was a number to call for those willing to volunteer their time to help clear away the brush and overgrowth. I also told him that it would be great if he could publish that info in the paper. If it's published or if he replies with the info, I'll post it to this thread and ping you.
23 posted on 09/13/2003 8:26:42 AM PDT by honeygrl
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To: honeygrl
You're a champ. I appreciate it.
24 posted on 09/13/2003 8:39:24 AM PDT by geedee (Hillary and Beelzebub were conjoined twins.)
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To: honeygrl; *Gods, Graves, Glyphs
Just adding this to the GGG homepage, not sending a general distribution.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.

25 posted on 07/21/2004 7:24:49 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (Unlike some people, I have a profile. Okay, maybe it's a little large...)
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To: honeygrl

From what I've been able to learn about the cemetery, it was maintained in pretty good shape until the last known sexton died in 1977. No one has been able to locate the records of the Gospel Pilgrim Society so we don't know who was buried where!
Some relatives of the deceased have maintained their own family lots over the years, but the general upkeep of the whole cemetery has been sporatic over the years. There was an attempt to clean out the jungle in the 1990s, but the overwhelming task required more effort than a few volunteers can do in a Saturday work session.
We're working on getting a website together so that people can contribute information about burials or family members. Will keep you posted when it's up and running!


26 posted on 11/02/2004 7:56:36 AM PST by ebmayes
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To: Amelia

See below - we're working on this!!!


27 posted on 11/02/2004 7:58:15 AM PST by ebmayes
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To: honeygrl
I've lived here all my life and never even knew that graveyard existed.

I'm sure the kudzu ate it up...

28 posted on 11/02/2004 8:01:22 AM PST by ErnBatavia (Democrats: appear in September, leavin' November 3 - worse than a 1-night stand...)
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