Little metal funeral markers lie hidden among the brush marking the exact location where Linda Davis’ grandparents were laid to rest many years ago.
As a child, Davis would visit the cemetery with her mother and father to clean off her grandparents’ grave.
“We would get a flower pot from this Clarkewood Howell’s Flower Shop. It’s about a mile and a quarter from my house to the cemetery,” said Davis. “We would walk and then break the bottom of the flower pot and put it on my grandparents’ grave.”
Her mother and father always spoke of saving enough money to buy a headstone to place on the grave, but as time passed, the family moved away, nature had its way and the little metal funeral markers disappeared.
With determination and dedication, Davis has since made it her mission to not only find her grandparents’ grave but also rebuild Brooklyn Cemetery as a whole.
“I think my mom deserves more respect in terms of honoring her wish [of buying a headstone] and I know my grandparents deserve more respect than we’ve given them in terms of knowing exactly where they are,” said Davis.
When the county was considering deeming the cemetery as abandoned and reclaiming the land, Davis chose to re-establish the trust because she knew the county would not make the cemetery a priority. As a result, in 2006, the Bethlehem Cemetery Society Trustee Board was founded. Davis is the founder and also serves as president and secretary of the organization. She has dedicated herself to restoring and rebuilding Brooklyn Cemetery, as well as commemorating the individuals who were buried there.
“She is a hard, dedicated worker, and when the cleanup group needed a leader, she was absolutely the right person to head up the Friends of Brooklyn group,” said Meriwether Rhodes, a close friend of Davis and genealogy researcher at the Brooklyn Cemetery.
Located behind Clarke Central Middle School, Brooklyn Cemetery established in 1882, was one of the first African-American cemeteries in Athens. Today, 1100 names have been uncovered among the brush and are listed on the cemetery website for families to locate loved ones. Still, hundreds of graves are lost beneath the shrubs, including the grave of Davis’ grandparents.
The first Saturday of the winter months are scheduled volunteer workdays. Students and members in the community come out to help clear the 11-acre tract of land.
Dr. Robert Harrison, a fellow member on the Bethlehem Cemetery Society Trustee Board describes Davis as “the leader and an exceptional organizer. She is able to enlist a lot of volunteerism.”
Volunteers start by clearing all fallen limbs and branches in a selected area and creating piles along the side of the road to be mulched. The mulch is then used to fill in sunken graves and holes where trees have fallen.
“Every time we have a group and they clear out an area that you couldn’t see through before, and the sun just pours through, it’s just amazing how it comes up like clockwork… and you see the radiance shining down on the ground,” said Davis. “And you say oh my God the ancestors are very happy about this spot right now, because it feels alive again, it feels alive, it feels like someone cares about it again.”
Davis is thankful for the volunteer organizations and individuals who have come out and made a difference in the cemetery. They play an active role in accomplishing the many goals she has in mind for the cemetery.
She has a vision of the cemetery being gated in the future, with a road to help tell the stories of those who lost their lives. She also dream’s of building a sculpture garden to depict the lifestyles of the people who are buried there. A memorial for Davis’ grandparents is also in the works in the form of a sculpture that tells their story.
“I would like to be able to walk through this extraordinarily pristine setting and as you look to the left or look to the right, you’ll see memorials through the sculptures that commemorate the lives of the people who are buried there with no markers,” said Davis.
The master plan for the cemetery is already in full force, and Davis is very excited for the future of this hidden Athens treasure.
Linda Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meriwether Rhodes: MRh1248@aol.com
Dr. Robert Harrison: email@example.com
Steven Grossvogel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carlton Davis: email@example.com