LOWGAP — Once forgotten and covered in briars and undergrowth, the slave cemetery located near the Edwards-Franklin House now displays a permanent historical marker and has been viewed by the public.
A number of community members gathered last night for a stirring dedication ceremony at the graveyard. They came to honor the legacy of slaves buried there.
“I was just so happy that so many people felt it important to come out to this dedication tonight,” remarked Emma Jean Tucker, vice president of the Surry County Historical Society, after the ceremony.
Evelyn Gentry Howie, who sang during the dedication, said, “It was moving, emotional, and exciting.”
The ceremony began with a welcome by Walter White, president of the Surry County Historical Society, and then historian Marion Venable gave a brief explanation of the history of the Edwards-Franklin property.
Venable described the difficult tasks that had to be completed by slaves living in that day. She said, “We celebrate today the work and the dedication of the many slaves who lived and worked on this land.”
Hunter Day, the Boy Scout who cleared the undergrowth at the cemetery, was then recognized. Howie next sang “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” before the names of the known slaves were read.
As Venable explained in an interview last week, it is not known exactly how many slave graves are located on the property or who was buried there. According to wills, the plantation had 50-plus slaves at one point. At the dedication, society members read a list of the slaves known to have worked on the plantation. These names were found in old documents. The slaves are only listed by first name.
After the reading of the names, Tucker led the crowd in a litany adapted from the writings of Carl B. Westmoreland. Together the crowd chanted “They were not anonymous” at the end of each line read by Tucker.
Dennis “Bud” Cameron then read a prayer of dedication. Near the end he said, “May this place be preserved as a remembrance to these and others who lived lives of enslavement.”
The dedication concluded with another song by Howie. This time, she enlisted the help of the crowd to sing. People joined together to sing “Come By Here (Kumbayah).” They gathered at the Edwards-Franklin House across the street afterward for refreshments.
A number of people mentioned how stirring the dedication was. Evelyn Scales Thompson, local historian and leader of the African-American Historical and Genealogical Society of Surry County, said, “I thought, (the slaves are) not here, but their spirits know that we’re here, and it felt good to be in their midst.”
Howie said, “It was not sad. I was uplifted and very proud.”
David Crawford, a member of the Surry County Historical Society, said, “It’s long overdue. I just think it’s a good thing for us as a people to recognize people that have not been recognized for so long.”
Day cleaned up the cemetery site for his Eagle Scout project. He is a member of Boy Scouts of America Troop No. 57 in High Point, but he works at Raven Knob Camp. After the ceremony, he said, “It makes me feel good that I did something for the community.”
He worked at the site off and on for a year, probably seven or eight days total. He counted 43 stones that probably served as grave markers, but he said there’s no way to tell how many people are actually buried there. His family did note that the graves seem to be arranged in lines from east to west. The area was completely covered in briars and shrubbery before Day came to clean it.
“It was hard,” he admitted.
Crawford said, “We’re really appreciative of him for doing that ... It’s great for the public to be able to see this.”
Now the cemetery is dedicated and marked for future generations to remember those buried there.
“It was exciting to be a part of this history,” said Howie.
The cemetery is located on the former property of Gideon Edwards, who built a plantation of nearly 2,500 acres. When Edwards died in 1810, his daughter, Milly, and her husband, Meshack Franklin, moved there. Now the Edwards-Franklin House is owned by the Surry County Historical Society.
Contact Meghann Evans at email@example.com or 719-1952.