Smyrna recently took ownership of the cemetery and is caring for it, said spokeswoman Jennifer Bennett. The property was originally owned by a church, which burned down about 10 years ago.
State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a former Smyrna city council member, said that when a developer sought to buy the land, residents told the city of the cemetery’s existence and asked for its preservation.
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Since the church still owned it, Smyrna’s hands were tied until it struck an agreement with the developer, who deeded the cemetery to the city.
“It was a long time coming and it really took a lot of coordination between the city, the church and the developer that was purchasing the property,” she said.
An unmarked gravestone is flagged at Old Mt. Zion cemetery in Smyrna, Friday, June 21, 2019. The city of Smyrna is taking care of a historically black cemetery on Hawthorne Road. City staff are determining how may burial sites there are and cleaning up the property. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Bennett said the developer plans to build two homes, in front of and next to the cemetery. Plans also call for the developer to install a decorative wall, signs and a small parking area for visitors.
Smyrna has been clearing the property and identifying burial sites that have lost their identifying marks over time. Smyrna has spent $4,310 in tree removal and removed overgrowth and cleared brush at the site.
The city believes there are about 200 graves at the .75-acre cemetery. Workers have been able to identify about 50 burial sites and confirmed the names of 15 people through headstones and online resources. Bennett said the oldest confirmed date of death was 1903 and the latest burial date was 1971.
Marked and unmarked gravestones are flagged at Old Mt. Zion cemetery in Smyrna, Friday, June 21, 2019. The city of Smyrna is in the early stages of taking care of a historically black cemetery on Hawthorne Road. City staff are determining how may burial sites are there and cleaning up the property. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Anulewicz said moving the graves or developing the cemetery were never part of the city’s discussion, as officials believed it was imperative to preserve the area’s history. “These are names that represent the early families of Smyrna,” she said.
Harris said caring for and protecting the cemetery from development is also important because it’s one of the few places where former enslaved black residents in Cobb could be buried.
“They don’t have a voice for themselves,” she said.
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