Cemetery cleanup

Members of the Good Shepherd and Magnolia cemeteries preservation committee and youth volunteers from Jones Chapel Missionary Baptist Church celebrate their completion of yard work at the cemeteries in this picture taken in May. Standing, from left, are committee member Peter Meeks, several members of Jones Chapel — Marlon Lockridge, Jaquerius Williams, Takemus Porter, Michael Steele, Adrian Bronell, Terron Westerfield and Cameron Westerfield —  and committee member Lamar Liddell. Sitting on the lawnmower are, from left, Tamiya Sanders of Jones Chapel and Herman Salisbury of Salisbury Lawn Services.

Those trying to restore and preserve the grounds and grave markers at the Good Shepherd and Magnolia cemeteries and catalog the people buried there are continuing to make progress.

A committee composed of people who grew up in the neighborhood near the cemeteries along Avenue N was formed last year in order to clean and beautify each gravesite and give recognition and remembrance to those buried there.

It “seems like every week there’s a little bit that happens there,” such as weeds being pulled or grass being mowed, said Lamar Liddell, one of the committee members. “We got the word out in the community, and I think the community is really embracing the project.”

The two cemeteries serve as the resting place for hundreds of Black people, many of whom left their mark on the community. When facing north, Good Shepherd is on the left side of Avenue N; Magnolia Cemetery is on the right side.

The committee receives assistance from the city of Greenwood  and Leflore County, volunteers and other partners, such as the lawn services of Timothy O’Bryant and Herman Salisbury and young volunteers, Liddell said.

Other beautification efforts in the works include the installation of post lights, benches, fencing, entry arches and a memorial wall, according to a concept design shared by Brantley Snipes. She has been working with the committee since November to develop a landscape master plan for the cemeteries as well as working on grants to secure funding. “It’s been great to see the city and the county come together as a team effort to figure out how to make this work,” Snipes said.

“The reason I wanted to get involved is because there are some very significant historical figures buried there,” she said.

In January, the committee applied for an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Grant of up to $150,000. The effort was unsuccessful, but Snipes said  she’s working on applying for other funds.

Liddell said the committee is also working on a way to establish itself as a nonprofit in order to receive donations.

The other mission of the committee is to catalog the dead.

Annette Ford

Ford

That task falls to Annette Ford, who grew up in Greenwood but resides in Atlanta. She frequently comes back to Greenwood to visit her family, and she said she has several relatives buried in the cemeteries.

On Jan. 24, when Ford was in Greenwood, she photographed 347 of the grave markers that were visible. She estimates that there are  between 1,500 to 2,000 grave markers in the two cemeteries and some of the graves are not visible.

However, the absence of some records means that the committee can’t find out all of those who are buried in the cemeteries, she said.

After taking pictures of the  markers, Ford entered the names into a database and began to research the individuals to tell stories about their lives.

Ford goes through newspaper archives, genealogical records and taps into her network of friends and classmates from her time at Greenwood High — she graduated in 1986 — for her research.

Cyrus Nero marker

A grave marker honors the memory of Cyrus Hart Nero, whose body is buried in the Good Shepherd Cemetery.

One of Ford’s high school classmates was Regina Nero, now Regina Nero Price, of the Nero family, which has a prominent history in Greenwood, Ford said.

Price’s second cousin was Cyrus Hart Nero, who is buried in  Good Shepherd.

Nero’s birth date and death date — April 30, 1918-Oct. 18, 2013 — are inscribed on his  marker, as are the words “Patron Saint of Good Shepherd Cemetery.” This piqued Ford’s interest.

He was an advocate for the cemetery, taking care of it over the years, Ford said.

She added that Price will help her learn the stories of the other Nero family members buried in the cemeteries.

Other noted people buried in the cemeteries include military veterans; civil rights leaders such as  Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland, a playwright; and religious leaders from  churches, such as New Zion Missionary Baptist Church and McKinney Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.

Wilburns Burns marker

A grave marker honors the memory of Wilburns Burns, who was buried in 1922.  

Among the earlier graves are that of Wilburns Burns, who died Sept. 30, 1922, at the age of 91, according to his marker.

Another marker designates the resting place of Toney Thurman, who was born on Dec. 27, 1854, and died on March 30, 1914.

From her cataloging, Ford has put together life stories for 20 people.  Some of their stories have been published on the Humans of Greenwood Facebook page, with the word “Humans” standing for Honoring Urban Mainstays, Ancestral Neighborhoods & Streets.

Ford said the cemetery deserves a historical marker reflecting its significance — local, state and national.  Next month, she hopes to stop by Greenwood again to photograph the rest of the visible grave markers.

She also said that she hopes to bring more descendants of the deceased on board with the project.

“They need a voice in terms of knowing we are out there,” she said. “These are someone’s ancestors here.”

• Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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