Volunteers resurrect graveyard's dignity from weeds and woods

Tucked away in the shade and clustered trees off of Oak Street in Blackville sits the Blackville Community Colored Cemetery.

Although still in use, through the years the cemetery has become overgrown with weeds, tangled in trees and pockmarked with litter.

But about 50 people showed up April 25 to begin a labor of love and respect - the first steps in cleaning and revitalizing the cemetery.

"I didn't know if we would have one person or a 100 people," said Vivian Alston, a worker and one of those involved in coordinating efforts for the project.

"But I was really surprised and happy with the turnout. People arrived here in the morning with a tractor, hoes, shovels, rakes, weedeaters and bags," she said.

Alston and other concerned citizens had sent out letters to churches, held two community meetings and plastered posters around Blackville to get word out on the cleanup.

Throughout the day, the group cleared brush and debris from the 6.2 acres and long-hidden moss covered tombstones ranging back to 1901 were exposed.

"I haven't been here in 50 years," said Charleston resident Dennis J. Young. "I remember it was beautiful - wide-open and lined with trees."

Young's family was from Blackville and his grandmother, aunt and uncle are all buried in the Blackville Community Colored Cemetery.

"From the time I was two years old to six years old, every summer we would all pile into the car and drive from Washington D.C. to this cemetery - it was like a pilgrimage," said Young.

A chance encounter with Alston at the ‘Taste of Blackville' festival led to Young helping out.

"I asked him (Young) what he was doing here in Blackville and he said he was visiting the cemetery; I told him we were starting to clean it up next week," said Alston.

"And I said, ‘I want to be a part of it,'" said Young.

Young said cemeteries are landmarks for towns and other who helped felt both history and respect were being lost in the weeds.

"As a funeral director coming into a cemetery, it was very embarrassing," said Franklin Dash, the owner of Green's Funeral Home in Blackville.

Dash - as well as William Guinyard of Guinyard and Sons Funeral Home in Barnwell - were on hand to help with the efforts.

"It's very difficult to identify grave spaces families had purchased," said Dash.

Guinyard donated lawn tools and a large tent where participants ate chili hot dogs and rice gumbo for lunch.

Blackville resident Jackie Reed donated a tractor to the efforts and Barnwell County Council supplied dumpsters as well as landfill use for the debris.

Willie Washington of Blackville, the project coordinator, had initiated a cleanup effort about three years ago but it didn't fully get off the ground.

"We are probably all going to be back out there this weekend," said Alston.

"And I'm going to bring my daughter up here in a couple of weeks for the first time," said Young.

"My dad used to tell me, ‘You don't know where you're going until you know where you have been.' If it wasn't for Grandpa Sam and Grandma Merdus - I wouldn't be here."

If anyone is interested in helping or donating resources in the ongoing effort to clean up the Blackville Community Colored Cemetery call (803) 383-1368.