Good Shepherd Cemetery

The gravestone of Bobby Gaton Wallace, who served in the U.S. Army, rests in Good Shepherd Cemetery.

Advocates behind the cleanup and restoration work for the Magnolia and Good Shepherd cemeteries, located along Avenue N in southeast Greenwood, are seeking a grant to help fund their efforts.

The city of Greenwood, working alongside a committee formed by residents last year to clean and renovate the cemeteries, is applying  for an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Grant up to $150,000.

The grant, offered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is to preserve and maintain historic and pivotal African American sites.

That includes Greenwood’s Magnolia and Good Shepherd cemeteries, the final resting places for numerous African Americans. Magnolia Cemetery is on the east side of Avenue N when facing north; Good Shepherd Cemetery is on the west side.

“There’s a very diverse type of individuals buried out there, from veterans to civil rights activists to just individuals that were significant to the community,” said Lamar Liddell.

He, along with City Councilman Carl Palmer, Willie Meeks and Isadore Lipscomb, all Greenwood residents who grew up in the same neighborhood near the cemeteries, formed the committee last year to clean and renovate the cemeteries, which are now owned by the state.

The committee also receives assistance from the city, which has earmarked $10,000 annually for restoration efforts, as well as from the county, Liddell said.

The grant would allow the cemetery to add drainage systems, benches and lighting.

To help further the restoration work, the committee formed a nonprofit, Humans of Greenwood, with “Humans” as an acronym for Honoring Urban Mainstays, Ancestral Neighborhoods & Streets, in November, as well as an accompanying Facebook page in December.

Last year, the committee enacted cleanups of the cemetery, including a controlled burn to get rid of the residue.

“The good thing about that burn is that it allowed us to see a lot that was covered,” such as knocked-over tombstones that were hidden by grass, Liddell said.

The nonprofit also includes a research committee, composed of Liddell, Annette Ford and Erskin Mitchell, who also have connections to the cemeteries and the surrounding neighborhood.

The mission of the research committee is to scan the cemeteries, catalog the people buried there and present their stories on the Humans of Greenwood’s Facebook page.

Those who have had their stories featured include Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland and Lance Cpl. Joseph Lee Rhodes, who are both buried in the Good Shepherd Cemetery, Liddell said.

Born and raised in Greenwood, Holland (1944-2006) was a civil rights activist; author of “From the Mississippi Delta,” a memoir that also became a Pulitzer-nominated play; and a professor of theater at the University of Southern California.

Rhodes (1947-1969) died in the Vietnam War. His image, along with that of 241 other enlisted men, appeared in a photo feature “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week's Toll,” for the June 1969 issue of Life magazine. Prior to his service, Rhodes attended Mississippi Valley State University and worked at Baldwin Piano and Organ Co.

“We’re finding new tombstones every day. Every time we go out there, we find another tombstone,” Liddell said, whose research committee has cataloged hundreds of people so far.

It’s hard to estimate how many people are buried in the two cemeteries, he said. As to how old the cemeteries are, Liddell said some tombstones have dates from the late 1800s. Cataloging the dead, however, can sometimes be difficult due to  a lack of or poor record-keeping as well as damaged tombstones.

Because of this, the research committee always welcomes help from the public.

Aside from beautification work, Liddell said money from the grant would also be used to install walls for each cemetery to memorialize the dead.

“We want to make sure that we can recognize the individuals that were buried there,” he said.

For more information, go to facebook.com/humansofgreenwood/.

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

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