Forgotten church cemetery holds stories of Johns Creek’s past

Nestled between backyards and a busy intersection tombstones of a forgotten cemetery are witnesses to an important part of Johns Creek history.

The Macedonia AME Church Cemetery, located near the intersection of State Bridge and Medlock Bridge roads, is home to about 53 gravesites of former slaves and their relatives. Some markers date back to 1850’s when plantations dominated the area growing cotton and other crops.

The city of Johns Creek accepted the maintenance easement of the property from Fulton County recently. City work crews went to the cemetery for the first time last week to cut back grass and weeds and clean up debris. The annual cost for the added maintenance is estimated to be around $3,600 a year. Johns Creek City Manager Warren Hutmacher said the maintenance is “a good first step in helping preserve a significantly important historical site in the city.”

No one knows who owns the property. The church was abandoned, and the building was demolished sometime in the late 1990’s. Sharon Ebert, Johns Creek Community Development director, said property records indicate members of the church are the property owners. However, tracking down former church members have proved fruitless.

Recent research of the property shed some light on the Macedonia AME Church and cemetery. An archeological study done by the Georgia Department of Transportation last year attempted to plot all the grave sites in the cemetery and identify those buried there.

Also, a historical study done by the University of Georgia in 2012 identified the burial site as one of 16 properties in the city that would be eligible for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places. According to the UGA study, the cemetery is a significant example of African American ethnic heritage and an example of the growth of religious institutions of former slaves at the time.

Ebert related the story of April Waters, a former slave buried at the cemetery. April Waters was a young woman owned by George Morgan Waters, who operated a plantation in the area. George Waters died in 1852 and freed April and the rest of his slaves in his will.

However, George Waters’ grandchildren contested the will. Later, court documents at the time showed that an effort was made to send Waters and other freed slaves in the area to Liberia in West Africa as part of a repatriation movement known as the American Colonization Society.

“It is an interesting window of what was going on into the South at this point in time,” Ebert said. “It sounds like certain plantation slave owners realized that there was something wrong with slavery and they were trying to right a wrong.”

Ebert explained that with no clear line of ownership, the next best scenario is for a group to step to form a preservation trust for the property to protect the cemetery and further document a part of Johns Creek history.

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