'Black pioneers'

History trail brings Euharlee cemetery into the limelight


For Charles Reese, walking through the Black Pioneers Cemetery is an emotional experience. Along with paying respect to those buried at the site, he also is overjoyed the historic cemetery is being further preserved for inclusion on the upcoming Bartow Black History Trail.

"I cried. When I first heard about it, I was just thinking to myself, 'Wow, what a way to not only preserve, but to uplift these folks that struggled all those years,’” said Reese, who joined the city of Euharlee as its planning and zoning director in 2016. "What was confirmation that this was special? My parents came to visit me. … When I took my dad here, he cried. So the motivation is I can't wait to bring him back when this is entirely revitalized. This is going to be for me, one of my biggest accomplishments.

"… I'm African-American,” he said, noting he did not grow up in Euharlee. “I was raised in a family where we took very seriously our African-American history and heritage. My dad is what you call a black theologian. So I have a special inward interest in this whole project."

Currently overgrown with vegetation, the wooded cemetery on Covered Bridge Road is nestled between the former Euharlee Presbyterian Church — now owned by the city of Euharlee — and Euharlee Baptist.

"This is a part of American history," Reese said about the site that previously served as a cemetery for slaves in Euharlee. "This is a part of African-American history. I've always had [an] interest in my ancestors. For me to just stand here right now, I actually feel like I’m a part of these people — the families that are involved.

"We already have the [Euharlee] Covered Bridge. We have the commissary and all these other historical buildings — and other natural resources here in the community of Euharlee, but for African-American people to come out here and say, ‘Wow, we are presently and past a part of this community,’ I think it will be very special,’” he said, referring to Euharlee’s two sites on the Bartow Black History Trail. “… What's amazing for this little town called Euharlee, you have people that visit here from all over Georgia. This will be yet another thing to do, another attraction. It just shows the diversity of these beautiful national resources and historical assets that we have in this community."

Historical significance

Dating back to 1830, the Black Pioneers Cemetery features more than 300 burials, three of whom have been identified.

"The Euharlee Black Pioneer Cemetery is a 1-acre cemetery that was set aside in the 1850s by the Euharlee Presbyterian and [Euharlee] Baptist churches to bury the enslaved individuals in the community,” said Katie Gobbi, director of the Euharlee Welcome Center & History Museum, which is operated by the city of Euharlee and Euharlee Historical Society. “In 1852, a census of what was then called Euharleyville shows that nearly 600 people living here were enslaved. After emancipation, some burials continued there, but other churches established by the newly emancipated people created new cemeteries that were often used instead. Burials continued at this cemetery until at least 1900.

"… In the 1990s, the cemetery was largely forgotten and it was almost lost to construction. Mrs. Mary Ellen Nelson Taff reminded the community in 1998 that there were many people from Euharlee’s history buried in that cemetery and it needs to be saved. Carl Etheridge and others worked for years clearing limbs and litter to be able to conduct a survey of the cemetery. He documented at least 333 graves."

Operated by the city of Euharlee, the Black Pioneers Cemetery also has garnered the attention of several organizations, who have installed various types of markers, since the early 2000s.

Following Euharlee Historical Society, city of Euharlee and descendants of individuals who were buried at the cemetery placing a monument at the front of the site in 2002, Eagle Scout John Daniels and fellow troop members marked each gravesite with a wooden cross in 2007.

"Three individuals have been identified as buried in the cemetery, but we do not know exactly where they are located," Gobbi said. "Descendants of those named signed affidavits stating that they knew that their relatives were buried in the cemetery. The three names we have are Het Powell, Ada Powell and Jim Scott. We do not know a lot about Mr. Scott, except that he was buried in the 1870s and worked for a local family.

"Mrs. Het Powell and her daughter Ada came to Euharlee as slaves from South Carolina. Mrs. Powell and her husband, Johnson, had four children, three daughters — Ellen, Ada and Cara — and a son, Lee, who was sold to another slaveholder at a young age. The Powells never saw him again. Het worked as a midwife and housekeeper in Euharlee until her death. Her daughter Ada was later buried near her."

Renewed interest

In the next few months, the Bartow Black History Trail will officially be established in an effort to highlight and preserve historic black sites.

Along with Black Pioneers Cemetery, the tourism endeavor will consist of Butler's Shoe Store in Adairsville; Melvinia "Mattie" Shields McGruder's monument in the Kingston Cemetery; Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center and St. James AME Church in Cassville; Euharlee Covered Bridge in Euharlee; Miss Vinnie's Cabin, Summer Hill and Mount Zion Masonic Lodge No. 6 in Cartersville; and George Washington Carver Park in Acworth.

"Currently, an ad has been designed by the Cartersville-Bartow Convention & Visitors Bureau, to go into the Historic High Country Region brochure,” said Sheri Henshaw, executive director of Keep Bartow Beautiful. “This will begin the marketing of these 10 sites as a ‘trail,’ suitable for an individual taking a driving tour or bus tour by organized groups. A brochure is also being prepared that will feature each site, and also include a walking tour of African-American businesses in downtown Cartersville circa 1870-1940. We have plans to link to this walk through Miss Vinnie's Cabin, just two blocks away, and to provide interpretive signage and kiosks where appropriate, as part of the overall project.

"… What we want to see is what [Supreme Court of Georgia] Justice [Robert] Benham had in mind when he first proposed these 10 sites. We want this effort to showcase African-American history from slavery through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the struggles arising from integration, and everything in between. These sites cover the African-American experience, with sites covering stories of recreation, education, slavery, industry, religion, transportation, self-determination. From each site, there emerges a story and an individual that models this cultural experience common to the times. These people have fascinating, inspiring and often surprising stories to share with today's world. I, personally, am so happy that we can bring these long-gone people and places back to life through these efforts, for everyone to enjoy."

Site enhancements underway

With each site needing various levels of improvements, funding for upgrades at seven locations were secured through a Memorandum of Agreement in April between the Federal Communication Commission, the Georgia State Historic Preservation Officers, Bartow County government, the Bartow County Community Development Department and the Cartersville-Bartow County CVB in regards to four public safety towers.

"Bartow County's Mitigation Agreement for the Bartow Black History Trail Project, covering seven of [10] sites on the trail, calls for an estimated $3,000 to go toward the walkway project for the [Black Pioneers] Cemetery," Henshaw said. "… [Our consultant, Steve Webb, senior principal archeologist of R.S. Webb & Associates] will be doing all the preliminary work to ascertain the perimeters of the cemetery, so that we don't disturb any graves during walkway construction.  He will also assist us in creation of a plan that is archeologically sensitive, to reclaim the cemetery which has again become overgrown and maintain it properly, going forward."

During Tuesday's tour of the site, Webb provided enhancement recommendations to attendees, which included Gobbi, Henshaw, Reese and Missy Phillips with Keep Bartow Beautiful. While suggesting the removal of some invasive vegetation, Webb underscored the importance of preserving established cedar trees and various groundcovers.

"We need to tag and remove certain vegetation, and know which to leave in place so as not to further damage gravesites," Henshaw said. "Many old cemeteries have what would be identified as 'historic vegetation,' and we want to make sure we don't remove that. ... These graves were neglected for many years before any of us were even born, allowing trees to grow up through the site. We want to know what approach would be the proper one to take, in this case, and create a written plan for ongoing future maintenance.

"Once the site has been properly assessed, we will then create a walkway around the perimeter of the cemetery that will link to existing pathways within the cemetery itself, allowing for closer viewing of the graves. Many people who can trace their ancestors back to slaves in the area believe their remains could be among those in this cemetery, yet to be identified, and would like to visit and honor those present, but the site is not that easy to view up close. This walkway will help with accessibility."

The seven sites receiving funds from the Mitigation Agreement include Black Pioneers Cemetery, Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center, St. James AME Church, Miss Vinnie's Cabin, Summer Hill, Mount Zion Masonic Lodge No. 6 and George Washington Carver Park.

"The four towers being built [are] in Euharlee — Euharlee Road; [on] Five Forks [Road], Cassville; [Joe Frank Harris] Parkway, Cartersville; and Boyd Mountain Road, Adairsville," Henshaw said. "Since they are spread throughout the county, the work that will be done is also spread throughout the county to offset the impact of the towers in those communities. That includes visual impact on historic structures. … I am the project manager for all these projects, and the county has three years to complete all work. The document contains the SHPO guidelines, and all work should conform to the secretary of the interior's standards for the treatment of historic properties.

"… Our goal is to complete these projects according to the agreement, and that includes preparing them to better function as a tourism product for economic development. That portion includes wayfinding, directional and interpretive signage, and improved access for visitors — handicap access, tour buses, parking, etc. — under the direction of Ellen Archer at Cartersville-Bartow [County] Convention & Visitors Bureau." 

Echoing Reese's comments, Gobbi also is excited to see the Black Pioneers Cemetery receiving improvements in the near future.

"Personally, I am thrilled that funding has been obtained to preserve the cemetery and allow increased public access to it. The city of Euharlee is grateful to Sheri Henshaw and Bartow County for including this site in the overall project," Gobbi said. "… We are pleased to be included in Bartow County’s African-American heritage trail, along with the Euharlee Covered Bridge.

"Bartow County has such important African-American historic sites, and together, we can share the stories of these sites to a wider audience. The people buried in the Euharlee Black Pioneers Cemetery are part of Euharlee’s history and we need to tell their story."