Mia Harris and her son, Randy, were organizing a family tree project when she learned that her grandfather and her great-grandfather were buried at a black cemetery in Smyrna.
They went to the cemetery on the south side of Hawthorne Avenue just east of Old Roswell Road, and what they found was troubling. The property was overgrown, with a sign denoting the cemetery’s tie to two historically black communities — Rose Garden and Davenport Town — turned over and headstones damaged or scattered.
“I was really concerned,” Mia Harris, a Smyrna native, said.
Fearing the graves were going to be moved to make way for residential development,Harris and her son asked the city about the property. Fortunately, the cemetery will be preserved for residents who may have ancestors buried there, a city official told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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.
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.
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.
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.