Mattie Mitchell was on her way to church last week, feeling good about her life and family, when she decided to stop by and visit her grandparents’ graves at Cedar Grove Cemetery.
She had not visited in more than a year, and when she got there, she started to panic. The area where she remembered her grandparents being buried was covered by a six foot tall, 15 foot long pile of dirt.
“I was so upset,” she said. “I got to church and couldn’t concentrate on the Lord. I just kept thinking of my grandparents.”
She went back to the cemetery, got her bearings and found her grandparents’ gravestones a few feet from the dirt. But the experience shook her.
Buried in the dirt, Mitchell found a gravestone. Gertrude Stewart’s inscription said she lived from 1932 to 1973.
“These are somebody’s people,” Mitchell said. “They were buried twice. That’s not right.”
Mitchell teamed up with friend Earl Pinkerton, whose parents are buried a few feet from another large pile of dirt on the other side of the cemetery, and decided to act.
The cemetery is owned by the city, and some buyers also purchased “perpetual care,” which guaranteed the cemetery would look nice, Mitchell said. However, the large dirt piles and a fallen tree that cover a large section of the Taylor Street side of the cemetery prove the city is not fulfilling its promise, Pinkerton said.
“The city is responsible for keeping this property clean,” said Mitchell.
The traditionally black cemetery, which was started in the early 1800s, is adjacent to its white counterpart, Magnolia Cemetery. Mitchell said Magnolia is kept up better.
Pinkerton, a Korean War veteran, visits his parents at Cedar Grove Cemetery often. The plot is kept nice by his frequent visits, but a few feet from the grave site, the tall pile of dirt has been threatening.
“I have been trying to get this fixed for years,” Pinkerton said. “It is deplorable.”
In the family plot next to his, two World War II veterans’ families built a fence around their plots to protect them from the intruding pile of dirt. As a son of a World War I vet, Pinkerton understands the need to protect the history at Cedar Grove.
“These are World War II vets,” Pinkerton said. “And it looks like a trash pile.”
Pinkerton has also seen multiple graves that have been run over by large vehicles, damaging headstones. Mitchell found a metal marker that was warped by being run over, and instead of being replaced, it was discarded a few feet from the grave.
“It’s insensitive, it’s cruel and it lacks respect,” she said.
District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken said he spoke to Mitchell on Sunday night and told her he had sent a note about the situation to City Administrator Fred Russell and would follow up with him Monday during committee meetings. Aitken said Sunday was the first time he had heard complaints about the cemetery.
“If there is an issue there, we definitely want to fix it,” Aitken said.