WOODLAWN — Community members with ties to the historical — and segregated — Pope City Cemetery spent Saturday giving the grounds some much needed attention.
“This is part of several efforts,” said Cheryel Carpenter, whose father is buried there.
Two cemeteries — black and white sides — are separated by a chain-link fence and once had separate cemetery associations, according to history submitted by the Harrison County Historical Commission on the website, findagrave.com.
Over time, though, one of those associations apparently went defunct as members and groundskeepers themselves died, and that section of Pope City Cemetery — the African American side — fell into disarray.
Many of the volunteers Saturday have loved ones and family buried in the African American section of the cemetery, Carpenter said.
The cleanup was done in partnership with Pope City Baptist Church in Woodlawn.
Carpenter said it was a blessing to have the predominately white congregation join them in the cleanup efforts of the segregated grounds.
“They are the ones that are working with us to clean up, beautify and help us get the historical marker designation that’s so deserving,” Carpenter said.
Volunteers came equipped with gloves, boots and handheld tools to carefully clear and landscape the site. Volunteers devoted two shifts, from sunup to sundown, restoring the place Saturday.
According to findagrave.com, the African American portion of the cemetery is in a wooded area behind Pope City Cemetery. Entrance is accessible from the parking lot of Pope City Church on Pope City Road. An unpaved dirt and grass road along the northern side of the church leads to the area.
“The path is located along the side of the church cemetery and ends in the first clearing with headstones directly behind the first cemetery,” the website states. “There is another trail through the wooded area from the first clearing along the first cemetery that has a few clearly marked burials to another separate clearing with more burials.”
The commission noted that even more graves are located along either side of that path in the wooded areas.
“Some are very deep into heavy brush,” the website states.
Before Saturday’s cleanup, very little maintenance appeared to be done there as of December 2014, except in spots that were visibly mowed.
“But there are more burials to be found in the woods for the more adventurous genealogist,” the website states.
Carpenter said efforts are underway to locate the descendants of everyone buried in the African American section.
“There are close to 125 burial sites in this cemetery that dates back to 1911,” she said.
Carpenter, who has relatives buried there, said while their family maintains their ancestors’ section, other plots appear to be abandoned.
“It looks to me that families have just moved away,” she said.
And while an association once maintained the grounds decades ago, that’s not the case anymore.
“Those people are deceased,” Carpenter said.
She said she’s happy to be able to step in and help spearhead the preservation effort after retiring and moving back home from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“God just blessed me and put me in contact with (key) people,” Carpenter said.
Others leading the charge include Eugene Jackson and David Carpenter.
A second Pope City Cemetery Cleanup Day is slated for November. Carpenter said future plans for the cemetery include the establishment of an association for the long-term operation and maintenance of the cemetery, plus more beautification efforts.
“The vision for this cemetery is a pavilion, fencing and park benches,” Carpenter said. She said they want an area for families to relax as they spend time with their loved one.
“Families are in the process of organizing an association and planning fundraisers for the ongoing maintenance and preservation of the cemetery,” she said.