Suwanee to give funds to preserve cemetery

SUWANEE - For more than a year, the Jackson Street Cemetery Committee has worked to upgrade and preserve the old cemetery originally designated for blacks only on Jackson Street, formerly Cemetery Street, next to the Old Town Suwanee community.

The project takes money, and April's Caribbean Festival netted $3,243 to defray some of the expenses. Now, they are going to get some more help.

The City Council voted unanimously to approve a challenge grant to the Jackson Street Cemetery Committee, in which they commit to match dollar for dollar any noncity funds the committee receives, not to exceed $10,000.

Part of their job is to identify at least 74 people who rest there, many in graves designated only by handmade markers. Several World War I and II veterans are buried there, as well as Suwanee's first and only black planning commissioner. Graves are scattered in random order throughout the cemetery, off in the woods and perched on the hill below the cemetery proper. Some graves show signs of care, others appear to be in various degrees of neglect marked by fallen headstones. The committee plans to level off the cemetery's bumpy terrain and provide markers for unmarked graves.

Four white crosses mark four unknown graves except one that states simply, "Little Sister Freeman." A homemade hand lettered tombstone marks the final resting place of "C L Freemen Passed 1921."

On Dec. 18, 1919, J. H. Scales deeded .86 acre "to the colored people of Suwanee" for $90 and the first people were buried there soon afterward. In more recent times, anyone wanting to be buried there had to consult with Juanita Meriday. When Meriday passed away three years ago, her granddaughter, Debra Bowens, found among her belongings the original 83-year-old deed to the property. It was unclear who actually owned the cemetery, but Bowens took the deed to City Hall and asked that the city take over its care.

In other news, City Council members will pay $47,603 to Cerula Company to prepare a master plan for Sims Lake Park, formerly the Ewell Property.

The property was acquired in 2003 as part of Suwanee's greenspace acquisition program. Cerula will outline for the city repairs to the dam and construct a map to develop the property into a public park.