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Posted: January 20, 2014 11:03 a.m.

Cemetery cleanup today for MLK Day

photo submitted by Monty Laster/

Mance Henderson is one of the people buried in the cemetery who still has a marker. He died July 20, 1938.

Newton County has approximately 270 cemeteries that have been located, many of them small family or church cemeteries that have deteriorated over the years due to neglect as their locations and purpose faded from people’s consciousness.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, area residents are planning to clean a small cemetery off Ridge Road that could house the remains of slaves or former slaves.

Volunteers are being sought for the event, which is being sponsored by the African-American Historical Association of Newton County and local business Team Sports and Signs and will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"It’s in deplorable shape with trees overgrown and graves all sunk in. Some graves people will come and clean and leave the rest of them. We’re going to try to clean them up as best as possible," said Fred Johnson, one of the event’s organizers.

The .69-acre cemetery is located off Ridge Road, which runs off of Oak Hill Road east of where it intersects with Ga. Highway 81. The cemetery, which is owned by Newton County, is located about 100 feet north of the road just after the seventh house on the street; balloons will mark the way on Jan. 20, according to a flyer for the event.

Johnson said the county will provide a dumpster for debris and said the Newton County Sheriff’s Office would be helping, along with County Commissioner Lanier Sims, school board member Eddie Johnson and members of area churches.

"(Volunteers) need to bring their own axes, chainsaws and bush blades and come prepared to work," Johnson said Friday, nothing the organizers were still looking for a company to provide free lunch for volunteers.

Johnson can be reached at 404-308-0780.

Cemetery story

Monty Laster, the last surviving member of the Newton County Cemetery Committee, said there are 62 documented graves at the Ridge Road Cemetery, so named because no one knows if it’s a family cemetery or used to be
attached to some church.

There are a lot of Hendersons buried there, but Johnson believes may have been tied to a church that used to be in the area.

"Each person in a cemetery has a story to tell and you can learn a lot about those buried. The houses are long gone in most cases, but the burials, that helps us determine what went on in this community," Laster said.

"With this cemetery, I wish we knew more about (it).

"People say it used to be a slave cemetery, but we don’t know that for sure. The person who has the oldest marker was born in 1851 and died in 1920. But that’s only the one who has markers."

Johnson and Laster have talked to surrounding property owners, the person who used to own the land and a woman whose father is buried there.
The woman whose father was buried in the cemetery said it’s the "Hendrix Cemetery," and Laster has identified three Hendrix members, though there are more Browns, Griers, Hendersons, Hursts, Smiths, Thompsons and, most of all, Wrights.

Laster said there are probably more than 100 graves without markers, some of which are identified by rocks and sunken holes and others that can’t be identified at all.

"That’s what we look for (rocks and sunken holes).

"You have to be careful when you do a cleanup, because you don’t want to disturb any of the rocks. Large rocks were generally for the headstone, and small rocks were for the foot stone," Laster said.

Even the markers won’t last forever, as some of them, like Mance Henderson’s – which says "Gone but not forgotten – are made from homemade concrete.

Laster said about half of the county’s 270 identified cemeteries would be classified as abandoned, because they shows signs of neglect or vandalism or are overgrown to the point where nothing can be done.

Laster, a former county commissioner, helped put in development regulations that require homeowners, developers and builders to take steps to identify and protect cemeteries.

 

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