- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP) - History can be found in every cemetery, but some of the history in Oakwood Cemetery has been, well, buried.

When the city of High Point established the cemetery in 1859, a “colored section” of the property was designated as the final resting place for the city’s earliest black settlers, a number of them prominent names in High Point history. When you visit the cemetery, though, there’s nothing there indicating the historic significance of the so-called colored section.

“This is where some of High Point’s most prominent early black settlers are buried - folks like Daniel Brooks and Henry Clay Davis and several others,” says Phyllis Bridges, who has researched much of the city’s black history. “They’re buried there, but nobody knows it because there are no historical markers there.”

That’s about to change, though, because the High Point City Council recently approved a proposal - spearheaded by Bridges - to place a historical marker at the cemetery that will indicate the colored section’s historic significance.

“I wanted to bring more awareness to our early black history here in High Point,” Bridges says. “I wanted to recognize, preserve and honor that history.”

The historical marker, which was approved Oct. 3, will be installed and publicly unveiled early next year, most likely in February or March, according to Bridges.

Among the blacks buried in the historic section of the cemetery are:

. Daniel Brooks, a Confederate soldier who later became a pastor and had an influential ministry in High Point in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He also championed education for his race and served on the committee that chose the land for the old William Penn High School.

. Jess Edmundson, a turn-of-the-century black businessman who was best known as a barber in High Point’s black community, but who also at one time was the proprietor of North Carolina’s only opera house for blacks.

. The Rev. Zachariah Simmons, founding pastor of the old Pilgrim Congregational Church, which was established in 1890. Simmons was also a strong advocate in promoting literacy within the black community.

. Henry Clay Davis, a well-known stagecoach driver, and his wife, Carrie.

. Peter Graves, a farmer and in-demand hunting-dog handler who eventually became successful in real estate.

. Annie Pitts, a former slave for William Welch Jr., who was one of High Point’s founding fathers in the mid-19th century. Later, she worked 38 years as a servant of prominent businessman J. Elwood Cox, until her death in 1917.

Descendants of some of the citizens buried in the black section of Oakwood Cemetery were thrilled to hear of the plans for the historical marker.

“I think it’s very important for us to preserve the history of our ancestors who were slaves,” says Brian Bonner of Winston-Salem, who is the great-great-great-grandson of Annie Pitts. “They went through a lot and tried to make the best life for themselves after they were freed. I think it’s important for us to honor those individuals who paved the way for us.”

The Rev. Angela Roberson, pastor of Congregational United Church of Christ - which was formerly Pilgrim Congregational Church - says Zachariah Simmons and the other blacks buried at Oakwood Cemetery deserve the historical marker.

“It’s a remembrance of folk who were part of this community and who added something to it,” Roberson says. “…And it’s important, I think, because otherwise we would not know some of these persons nor their contributions to the city of High Point.”


Information from: High Point Enterprise, https://www.hpenews.com

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