Jackson dedicates plaque to more than 100 historical Black residents buried in unmarked graves

Following the ceremony, Mayor Duffey gathered a group of men who he said made an impact on his life and have been good role models for many others in the community. (Courtesy of Larry Stanford)

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Following the ceremony, Mayor Duffey gathered a group of men who he said made an impact on his life and have been good role models for many others in the community. (Courtesy of Larry Stanford)

The city of Jackson celebrated Juneteenth with the dedication of a plaque at the Jackson City Cemetery commemorating more than 100 historical Black residents who are buried in unmarked graves in Section 10 of the cemetery.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, declaring that all enslaved persons were freed. But it took until 1865 for the word of the proclamation to reach Texas. On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas.

June 19 became known as Juneteenth and commemorates the emancipation of the slaves. Last year, President Joe Biden made it an official federal holiday, and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp followed suit, naming Juneteenth as an official state holiday.

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Jackson Mayor Carlos Duffey (left) presents Butts County NAACP President Poleon Griffin (right) with the first proclamation declaring June 19 as Juneteenth in the city.

Credit: Larry Stanford

Jackson Mayor Carlos Duffey (left) presents Butts County NAACP President Poleon Griffin (right) with the first proclamation declaring June 19 as Juneteenth in the city.

Credit: Larry Stanford

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Jackson Mayor Carlos Duffey (left) presents Butts County NAACP President Poleon Griffin (right) with the first proclamation declaring June 19 as Juneteenth in the city.

Credit: Larry Stanford

Credit: Larry Stanford

Jackson Cemetery Manager Joy Wedemeier opened the program.

“I inherited the cemetery from Perry Ridgeway when he retired,” said Wedemeier. “I’ve had it about eight years and I feel very connected to the cemetery. All the little dips in the ground in Section 10 are where the unmarked graves are.”

Pastor Kevin Gibbs of Zion Missionary Baptist Church gave a prayer, and Cheryl Hilderbrand of the Butts County Historical Society talked about the history of the cemetery.

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Butts County was created in 1825. In 1826, the treaty of Indian Springs was written, when all of the land west of the Ocmulgee River as sold to the state of Georgia by the Native Americans. That is when Jackson was formed.

The state legislature said Jackson was required to have a burial ground. The present site was chosen for the cemetery because it was already being used as a burial ground. Creek Indians were buried there, as well as some white settlers. The land was gradually purchased for the city, and in 1843 the cemetery was officially established.

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Credit: Larry Stanford

Credit: Larry Stanford

“At that time it was a segregated cemetery and there was a fence separating the Black and white sections of the cemetery,” noted Hilderbrand. “In 1983 Mayor C.B. Brown had the fence taken down, and over the last few years, under Mayor Kay Pippin, a beautification has taken place.

“But the laws that were passed to create the cemetery are not as important as the people who are buried here,” Hilderbrand added. “The families, the people who lived and paved the way for so many of us. That’s more important. That’s the joyful history.”

Council member Theodore Patterson then led a small choir in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and Pastor Mary Price of Restoration International, read an original poem based on the history of Blacks buried in the cemetery.

Jackson Mayor Carlos Duffey, elected last fall as the first Black mayor of Jackson, then read a proclamation establishing June 19 as Juneteenth in the city of Jackson and presented it to Rev. Poleon Griffin, Butts County NAACP President and pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church.

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Griffin thanked Duffey for the honor of receiving the first city proclamation on Juneteenth and said people cannot forget where they have come from.

“Today we come, standing on the shoulders of past many who suffered,” said Griffin, “yet we’re here today to remember them, to celebrate the victories and the great strides that we all have made on this road to freedom.”

Duffey and Wedemeier then unveiled the plaque as nine-year-old Kalaney Miller, Duffey’s niece, read the inscription. It reads:

“We do not know their names, but we know their history and the price they paid for our freedom. It is because of their courage and perseverance that people of color can stand in power today. Let us celebrate and honor them all of days.”

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Kalaney Miller, 9, reads the inscription on the plaque dedicated to more than 100 historical Black residents buried in unmarked graves in Section 10 of the Jackson City Cemetery. (Courtesy of Larry Standford)

Credit: Larry Standford

Kalaney Miller, 9, reads the inscription on the plaque dedicated to more than 100 historical Black residents buried in unmarked graves in Section 10 of the Jackson City Cemetery. (Courtesy of Larry Standford)

Credit: Larry Standford

Combined ShapeCaption
Kalaney Miller, 9, reads the inscription on the plaque dedicated to more than 100 historical Black residents buried in unmarked graves in Section 10 of the Jackson City Cemetery. (Courtesy of Larry Standford)

Credit: Larry Standford

Credit: Larry Standford

The proclamation is followed by a quotation from the Wisdom of Solomon:

“The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no torment shall touch them. They are in peace.”

Mayor Duffey then talked about the responsibility of people today to not forget the past and to pass their knowledge on to their descendants.

“We don’t know their names, but we know their history and the price they paid for our freedoms,” he said. “It’s because of their courage and perseverance that those of color can stand in power. It is the courage that we celebrate to honor all those and all of their days. You have to remember, it wasn’t a sacrifice, because no one asked to be enslaved, yet it was their perseverance to endure hardships that we all can stand here today as family, as Jacksonians, as friends.

“Last year Mayor (Kay) Pippin understood the value of honoring those precious souls and had the vision to plant beds of azaleas to beautify Section 10,” Duffey continued. “I added the placing of the plaque to add even more content to this cemetery and to this section of the cemetery, so we can all read of the history. It is our responsibility to honor their bravery. Maybe we don’t know their names, but going forward it is our responsibility to make sure our children and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren understand the history of this part of the cemetery.”

Duffey then invited Pippin up to speak. She gave an illustration of what it means for people today to remember those who came before them.

“You know the old saying about if you drive down a country road and see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know it didn’t get there by itself,” Pippin said. “We are all standing on the shoulders of everybody who is behind us and all of those who are out there (in the cemetery) as well. We are all turtles on a fence post and we’re only as good as what came before us. God help us to do even more and even better than the foundation that they laid for each and every one of us.”

The ceremony ended by a final selection by the choir, “Trouble of the World.” Following the ceremony, guests were provided light refreshments.


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Credit: Jackson Progress-Argus

Credit: Jackson Progress-Argus

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