- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Some of the graves are new, the names and dates etched in stark relief against the stone. Others are worn, faded, leaning or broken.

The grass in this section can grow high enough to make reading some of the stones challenging, Sam Barber said.

Barber, 84, has spent a lot of time in the “CC” section of Brownhill Cemetery in Greenville, which he said is incorrectly named.

The cemetery should be “Brown Hill,” he said, and the city of Greenville has incorrectly identified it on the sign for the cemetery, on its website and other places. He knows the names by heart. He knows there are those whose names are missing.

Barber spent more than a year researching the cemetery, looking for truth in records and memories. There’s injustice there, he said. There’s unfairness and wrongdoing. And he wants people to know about it.

His new book, “A Journey for Purchasing and Naming the Brown Hill Cemetery,” is the culmination of that research. The book is scheduled to debut later this month.

In the book, Barber explores the history of the CC section of the cemetery, where graves were relocated from the original Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church, previously located at First and Greene streets for 100 years before it was forced to relocate to Eighth Street in 1968. The church is now located on Hooker Road.

When the church was forced to move when the city took the property it stood on to develop the Town Common, the cemetery at the church also had to be moved. The graves were to be re-interred at Brown Hill Cemetery, but in his research, Barber found severe inconsistencies, he said.

Of the graves to be re-interred, records show the city engineer noted 97 graves to be moved. But city and Redevelopment Commission records show 42 graves re-interred, Barber said.

“I haven’t seen any evidence of headstones or where those bodies were,” Barber said. “So 100 years of history were destroyed because of the lack of accountability and responsibility within the move.”

During his research, Barber said he was caught off guard by what he found.

“I was surprised by the total control of the city during that time culturally, sociologically, economically, educationally,” he said. “We’re talking about a different time in history but the total control was surprising.”

Then came the dishonesty, lack of accountability and responsibility, he said.

“From the beginning the city was not honest in their approach when they wanted to evict the black folk from downtown,” Barber said. “There was a lot of controversy about the major preppers of moving the folk from downtown … through eminent domain.”

The city initially wanted church members to do the work to re-inter the graves, Barber said.

“Ultimately the city decided that they would re-inter the graves to this plot,” Barber said.

Barber said there were politics involved in the history of the cemetery.

“What I consider to be the corruption that took place,” Barber said. “You actually have bodies buried on top of each other. To me that was very troubling. That became the dark side of the reporting. The transparency and the accountability was not there. That seemed to be an undercurrent of what was going on after they moved the bodies here.”

The city engineer also only recorded names during the relocation, not birth and death dates, Barber said, and many of the names don’t come with headstones at the cemetery today, causing further confusion.

“Where are those headstones?” Barber said. “They’re missing.”

The cemetery that serves as the focus of the book is on Howell Street in Greenville, just across from South Greenville Elementary School. On a sunny morning in May, several people wandered its grounds visiting graves in other areas. Barber was the only one in the CC section. The CC section was specifically designed for the relocation of the Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church relocation, though newer graves also are located there.

The oldest grave in the CC section belongs to Mollie Brown. Her grave dates back to 1887.

“She was re-interred from downtown,” Barber said.

The city of Greenville acquired about 19 acres for a cemetery “situated in the Greene Place, sometimes called Cooper Field” on October 10, 1939.

Barber said the cemetery “grew out of a slave burial ground and the colored cemetery ultimately from the Cooper Field cemetery.”

Also found in the cemetery and detailed in Barber’s book are the veterans buried in the cemetery.

“All of the veterans of the 20th Century are buried out here,” he said. “They’re not buried in (the CC plot) but they are in other areas of the cemetery.”

After researching family connections to a New Bern cemetery, Barber, a retired teacher from Trenton, said he became interested in Brown Hill after he was invited by the South Side Senior Group to do a program at the C.M. Eppes Recreation Center.

“I decided to display some artifacts of my grandmother’s and to talk about the Brown Hill Cemetery,” Barber said. “And when I talked about the Brown Hill Cemetery, people were either in awe or shocked. That propelled me to do something.”

Barber said he hopes the book will encourage the South Side Senior Group and the city of Greenville to partner together to upgrade the cemetery and take better care of it.

“They could work together on some of these broken headstones and many times when I come out here the grass is all up around the headstones,” Barber said. “The markings on the borders are worn out and need to be replaced. They could replace the gate at the beginning.”

Older parts of the cemetery also have not been mapped, Barber said, another thing the city and group could work on together.

Barber said he profiled three people for the book, two funeral directors: S.G. Wilkerson Sr. and Walter E. Flanagan as well as C.M. Eppes, former principal of Greenville’s all-black high school.

“S.G. Wilkerson Sr. buried most black folks during the teens and ‘20s of the 20th Century at Cooper Field,” Barber said. Cooper Field is the oldest section of the cemetery. Cooper Field was absorbed into Brown Hill, Barber said.

Newspapers, East Carolina University’s library collection, Raleigh archives, the Kittrell Survey of Cemeteries in Pitt County, Wilson Library and other libraries and personal interviews were used in Barber’s research, he said.

“Every source that I could contact, I sought information from,” Barber said. “Primarily because there was not a history of the cemetery. Hopefully this helps fill in the gaps. There was a whole century of history lost.”


Information from: The Daily Reflector, https://www.reflector.com



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