African American Cemeteries Forum
Gasp!!! Clayton County Ga Debacle
Union Bethel AME Church Cemetery
Georgia NAACP called for an investigation of the Clayton County Commission Tuesday after the board voted for 311 historic African-American graves to be moved to another cemetery.
The Clayton County Commission voted unanimously to issue a permit to College Park recycling company Stephens MDS to relocate the graves to make room to expand a landfill. The cemetery is inaccessible and has not been visited for years before news of the possible move was announced, company officials said.
Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia NAACP, accused the five commissioners of a conflict of interest. According to DuBose, all of the commissioners have previously accepted campaign contributions from Stephens. “I’m calling for an investigation of each of the county commissioners,” DuBose told the commission. “This board sits on about $7,000 of this company’s money. We want to look to see if you were too connected to the financial contributions that were given by the company.”
Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell was the only one who disclosed the contributions before voting on the cemetery move Tuesday.
The NAACP president said he also wanted investigations by the state ethics commission and the Attorney General.
About 30 people who claimed to be descendants of those buried in the Union Bethel AME Church Cemetery protested the move Tuesday. Only two of those family members spoke at a public hearing last month about the cemetery.
“You bringing a landfill lets me know how much you think of my [ancestors],” Glen W. Turner told the commission. “Our souls can not be bought.”
Another descendant, 74-year-old Flossie Bailey, said last month that she was in support of the move because it would make the graves easier to visit.
The cemetery, which dates back to the 1800s, now lies in the shadows of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s fifth runway and is overgrown and inaccessible. It sits in between a construction debris landfill and a quarry.
The commissioners’ approval paves the way for Stephens to move the 311 graves from the landfill to Carver Memorial Gardens in Riverdale. The company has agreed to allow the public to witness the disinterment.
Betty Bowden, whose grandfather is buried in the cemetery, said she visited the cemetery Saturday and saw several graves have been moved.
“We demand a report to where the bodies are,” said Bowden, 72. “We are opposing the moving the rest of the bodies. We want that for a historical place since slaves were buried there.”
Company officials said none of the graves have been moved. However, only eight of the 311 headstones stand because of neglect and vandalism, according to archaeologist Jeff Gardner, who was hired by Stephens.
Stephens’ workers rediscovered the cemetery while expanding the 200-acre landfill.