Reviving History: A Monroe woman leads efforts to recover an African American cemetery

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Monroe resident Elizabeth Jones is leading the effort, and encouraging others in the community, to help recover and mark the graves in an African American cemetery in Monroe that has significant cultural and historic value.

Zion Hill Cemetery, Monroe, Ga. Photo credit: Elizabeth Jones Facebook page.

“Every town has a unique cultural history we must preserve. African American cultural history is sometimes undocumented, or the documents remain with churches and families. African American cemeteries disappear because graves were often marked with rocks. Rocks are easily moved. Another issue that arises with abandoned cemeteries is a question of land ownership. Georgia’s Abandoned Cemetery Law offers protection,” Jones said. “In order to save Zion Hill Cemetery, an African American cemetery in my town, I am reaching out to the community, the churches, and the City of Monroe.”

Jones gave some of the history behind the early beginnings of the property that now houses the graves of some of the earlier African Americans from the community.

“A log cabin was built on one-half acre on Alcova Street (now Alcovy Street) in 1868. A guarantee was made by George Selman that the piece of land south of the cabin would be used for worship, and the cabin was replaced by a wooden structure in 1870,” she said. “The church was called the Colored Baptist Church. The first pastor was Reverend Jessie Gilbert. Later, the church was named Zion Hill. (George Selman was a significant founder of Monroe, and his daughter married Pinckney Pollock, the President of Mercer University.)”

Photo credit: Elizabeth Jones Facebook page.

Monroe historian Steve Brown gave a little more of the history behind this cemetery and its connections to the current First African Baptist Church.

“Following the Civil War, George Selman gave 2 acres of land on Alcovy (Alcova) Street to the African-American members of the First Baptist Church of Monroe. On this property, Zion Hill Baptist Church was constructed,” Brown said. “The Church eventually moved to North Broad and today thrives as First African-Baptist or First AB. When the church moved the cemetery, of course, did not. It has become overgrown.”

The cemetery, now almost unseen, hidden behind the old B & B Engine property off Alcovy Street, houses the graves of early Monroe residents. Jones would like to see it restored to its rightful place in the community. Brown is asking the community to get behind her effort.

“Once the cemetery is documented it can be registered. If possible, please help with this effort which is long overdue,” Brown said.

“I am starting with the cleanup days, because we want to put the cemetery in the city’s name before I file paperwork for the National Register,” Jones said, adding that later she will need to survey each grave site and perform Ground Penetrating Radar. “It is wonderful to see the community unite. We are indeed blessed in our journey; As it continues, I hope to share what we learn with other communities.”

 Jones said that should weather prevent any particular scheduled work day, new days will be scheduled the following month.
“Every month will have two clean-up days until the cemetery is clean. Everyone can come as their schedule allows and as the weather permits,” Jones said.
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 8, and Saturday, June 22, 2019, are the days and times set aside this month to begin the cleanup.

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