When J.P. Godfrey stands in the section of the Oxford Historical Cemetery where slaves and their descendants were buried, where some might see only the work left to be done, he sees a huge amount of progress.
"We're proud of what it looks like now," he said, gazing out over the quiet, unassuming square of trimmed grass marked with a few shade trees and scattered, time-worn headstones. In the middle, next to a brown gazebo and spring green pine tree is a flowerbed with blooming bushes of orange and yellow lantana, flowering annuals, and a sprig of crepe myrtle.
Godfrey remembered how it looked when he first came nearly a decade and a half ago.
"It was a mess," he said. The lot was once wildly overgrown and neglected, and the company hired to clear the trees had knocked down, scattered and destroyed many of the old headstones in the process, leaving the memory of old-timers as the only map to the final resting place of many of Oxford's black families.
In the 11-years since he began working on cleaning up the section, Godfrey remembers the sweat and support of a number of people along the way - including the determination of one Emory professor, Dr. Ellen Schattschneider.
From 2000 to 2001, Schattschneider and her graduate students worked with Oxford community members to clean up the section over many Saturday mornings, said Godfrey.
Before she left to other universities, they planted a flourishing pine tree and a blooming flowerbed of orange and yellow lantana, also known as "Ellen's Garden," in honor of the people and families buried in that section.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, the city of Oxford will be dedicating a more permanent marker, a plaque identifying "Ellen's Garden" and the contribution of the students and Schattschneider in rehabilitating the lot.
"She took the extra step when the city fathers wanted it to go away," Godfrey said. "This woman came here on Saturdays and brought students in her own car."
Attending will be Schnattschneider, who will be in town for the Moore's Ford reenactment, Oxford city officials and Covington Mayor Kim Carter, said Godfrey.
The bronze plaque, mounted on a simple granite slab, lets visitors know they're looking at more than a grassy plot and a box of flowers. He pointed out the marker has nothing to do with the people buried in the lot, but that the garden was planted in honor of those buried there.
Eventually, Godfrey hopes to display documents in the gazebo explaining the site for visitors along with a grid map of the section so visiting family members can find unmarked grave sites, along with some history and description of life in the black community in Oxford.
Though much progress has been made and the times and attitudes have changed significantly, there's still much work to be done. Feelings about the cemetery and about the history of Oxford run deep in the community, he explained.