Handle with care

Local cemeteries need, deserve greater attention

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Death is a part of life. And there are a lot of important parts of life that we neglect.

Cemeteries, for example.

Not many of us visit cemeteries very often, but when we do, we expect a certain reverent tidiness – especially when you’re paying a visit to a departed loved one.

So you can imagine Mattie Mitchell’s surprise when she recently paid a visit to her grandparents’ graves in Augusta’s Cedar Grove Cemetery and found a dumped pile of dirt, about 6 feet high and 15 feet long, obscuring one grave and possibly more.

“These are somebody’s people,” Mitchell told The Chronicle. “They were buried twice. That’s not right.”

A fallen tree takes up another sizable portion of the cemetery’s south side.

The cemetery dates to 1820. Its oldest marked grave – broken but propped to a standing position – dates to 1835. Walking through Cedar Grove is a stroll through Augusta’s rich African-American history. The Rev. William J. White, founder of the forerunner of Morehouse College, is buried there. Famed educators T.W. Josey and A.R. Johnson are buried there. So are brothers R.A. Dent and B.L. Dent, who became the first black Augustans since Reconstruction to serve, respectively, in the Georgia General Assembly and on the Augusta City Council.

Many family members have paid for “perpetual care” of gravesites, and according to a state law that’s been on the books since 2000, that means perpetual care extends to the whole cemetery, which is tended by the city.

When a local government is responsible for every pothole, every fallen tree branch and every container of trash – and since those responsibilities are overseen and executed by human beings – peak efficiency 365 days a year is an impossibility. We understand that.

But what a shame that a part of Cedar Grove had to descend into a shabby state. Let’s hope the city acts quickly.

We’ve known Ms. Mitchell from a few years back as a concerned citizen who can get things done. She was responsible in 2004 for helping get a sheriff’s substation in her Bethlehem neighborhood. Cedar Grove couldn’t have a more devoted advocate.

However, perpetual care doesn’t necessarily have to mean perpetual government funding.

Why not look into cemetery cleanups as excellent service projects for civic clubs, youth organizations or even just small, concerned groups of neighbors?

And look at Cottage Grove Cemetery, off Marvin Griffin Road. It’s a 200-year-old private cemetery that has fallen victim to vandalism and poor maintenance. When a group from Virginia Military Institute poked around the cemetery a few years ago looking for the grave of a former cadet, they ended up cleaning up several gravestones. Now, a nonprofit organization has been started to fund the cemetery’s preservation.

Saving area cemeteries shouldn’t be put off for very long. After all, remember the old saying: “Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried.”

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itsanotherday1 11/28/12 - 12:40 am
I do have a question. A

I do have a question. A citizen stated in the original article that the "white" Magnolia cemetery next door was kept up. Are both cemeteries under the care and management of the city? What are the obligatory differences between the two from the city's standpoint?

Riverman1 11/28/12 - 09:33 am
Integrate the Cemetery

We could integrate the black cemetery with the white one. Because these people were buried in a segregated cemetery, reparations should be paid in the form of new and equal graves. Dig up the black graves, back up a bus and load it up and drive them to the white cemetery. Spread the deceased blacks throughout so things will be more just and equal in this form of society. Afterall the white bodies are kept in better graves, I'll guess, and in prettier areas. This is the ultimate segregation that is injurious to future generations of departed people. A federal court case would ensure compliance under the Civil Rights Act for the next 50 years until this societal wrong is corrected.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 11/28/12 - 10:29 am

When I visited Paris, I strolled through an old cemetary in a crowded part of the city. There were graves of historical figures and presumably peasants as well. The small plot was packed with tombstones. There was no room left. Imagine my surprise when I came to an open hole in the ground surrounded by other graves. The hole had been carefully dug and it was in the familiar rectangular shape of a single human grave.

I later learned that in Paris the common citizen does not buy a cemetary plot. Instead, you rent the plot for a set number of years. Then, someone comes, digs up your bones, and rents the plot to someone else.

They even have a tourist attraction in Paris called The Catacombs. There are bones neatly piled up in little cubicles for the tourists to see. Perhaps Augusta might want to latch on to this tourism idea and set up its own catacombs attraction. Bones from Cedar Grove cemetary and Magnolia cemetary could be intermingled in the new Catacombs attraction, showing the days of segregation are in the past for forward-looking Augusta.

burninater 11/28/12 - 10:36 am
We could do that, RM.

We could do that, RM. Alternatively, we could encourage smaller gov't by taking the burden upon ourselves to stop being so petty and care for graves equally, rather than requiring a court mandate.

Riverman1 11/28/12 - 11:34 am
Look at LL, place dropping

Look at LL, place dropping with the Paris reference:). But that's a good idea. Mix all the bones together. Don't forget the Indian ones too.

Burn, separate, but equal huh?

Jake 11/28/12 - 12:34 pm
Save space

Encourage cremation as our living space on this planet gets smaller.

As a person who is very much interested in history, I get a lot out of strolling through cemetaries. While in Gettysburg this past winter, I went out early one cold and frosty morning to a graveyard that was behind our motel. I was alone as I wandered the hilly cemetary and looked at the many graves. Most were citizens of the town from the 1830's up to current times and not veterans of the Gettysburg battlefield. One interesting site was of 2 brothers who died within 2 months of each other at other Civil War battles and their mother who died a few weeks after her sons were killed. I had speculated that she had died from a broken heart but who knows.

Old Timmer
Old Timmer 11/29/12 - 10:32 pm

If the "pepetual care" service cannot be honored, than give back the money paid for the service.

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