A Surprise Waiting Deep in Fairview Cemetery," by Robin R. Foster
Figure 4: Jane Smith Johnson McCoy (B. 1834) in Fairview Cemetery in family grave in Greenwood, SC. Taken by Robin R. Foster.
"One can tell the morals of a culture by the way they treat their dead." – Unknown
"Within many African American cemeteries "headstones" were not the only way graves were marked. Metal pipes, solid and hollow ones, various sized stones, seashells, and wooden markers. Extra care must be given when finding "odd" items within an old cemetery. What may look like trash may be a grave marker.
I am the caretaker of an all-African American Cemetery where bricks were used as grave markers. At the turn of the 20th century piles of damaged bricks from a nearby brick factory were easily accessible to the poorer Black families of the neighborhood." ---- Jack Robinson, Resurrection Mission.
I am still trying to absorb the experience I had that day. I spent the morning researching in the Greenwood County Courthouse, and I arrived early for my shift at the Greenwood County Public Library. It seems so many of my fellow volunteers there have been so concerned about restoring this cemetery.
Jim Ravencraft stopped by and informed me that he had begun (solo) making paths through the cemetery. Jim has documented over 100 cemeteries, and he makes those records available on Find A Grave and in a database accessible to patrons at the library. This pre-cleaning made it much easier to plan and organize further clearing and removal of vegetation.
There was no way that I was going to pass up the chance to watch this unfolding. I had to have a little assistance climbing in, and I followed Jim as he removed branches and vines in the way. He used pink tape to mark the path so as not to get lost. The place was dense and took him some time to carve out an entrance.
I did not fear snakes or falling through an open grave. I felt as if I had walked back in time as Jim recounted some of the birth dates of those buried there: 1810, 1830, and so on. I am more desirous to know their stories. Lots of huge markers have fallen over. I was most sad to see the headstone of Iola Rutledge had overturned. The inscription read, "Gone But Not Forgotten." There is no telling how long it had been this way.
I kept following closely and noticed there was a group of headstones off in the distance. We had gone quite a distance from the road at this point. All the headstones off in the distance had been completely covered with vegetation before I arrived. Little did I know that this was the spot that I was being led to. Unbelievably, I was able to force back the tears as I recognized the names inscribed on the headstones which hours earlier were completely covered.
Jim later forwarded photos taken after the cleaning around the stones. At least three of my great aunt Charlotte Vance Johnson's (1866-1936) daughters are buried alongside her: Carrie Richburg, Agnes Nedwood, and Essie Gilbert, the mother of Senator Frank Gilbert, Sr. (D. 1999).
Johnson family burial site in Fairview Cemetery in Greenwood County.
We found my second great grandmother, Jane Smith Johnson McCoy, but not her daughter, Mahalia Williams. Fairview Cemetery was mentioned on both of their death certificates. I have been determined to find a death certificate for everyone that I could that was buried in Fairview. I realize that is not possible, so I was happy to see some headstones for people who died prior to 1915 before deaths were recorded in South Carolina.
Power of one person
If you ever doubted the power of people to make a difference, remember all that you hear about revealed here was made available on Find A Grave. All the volunteers at the Greenwood County Library became involved along with the Greenwood County Historical Society and many friends.
To those who do not realize what was accomplished, over seven hundred burials were added from Fairview Cemetery. Just a week ago, a descendant of one of those buried emailed me for more information. Since 2014, I have received those emails.
As you go through locating death certificates for family members who lived after the dawn of freedom, you will become familiar with the earliest burial places used by African Americans. Hopefully, you will put forth the extra effort to visit these cemeteries to determine if they are cared for and if the surviving graves have been documented.
Do not expect to see all modern headstones in these early burial places. Some ancestors may only have a blank field stone to mark where they were buried. In some cases, you will only see depressions in the ground where graves have sunk deep.