Local historian Don Baker, Sr. has counted some 300 cemeteries scattered across Monroe County in his research that began with documenting burial sites for his ancestors.
One such cemetery in the eastern part of the county between, Greenwood Springs and Priestville, was established shortly before the Civil War. The Blair Cemetery off of Wolfe Road has an adjacent portion where slaves were buried that became buried itself due to years of neglect.
The slave burial ground is thought to have been established near the same time as the Blair Cemetery. Fallen tree limbs and leaves had covered the area to the extent that virtually no indication remained that a burial ground even existed behind a wall of cinder blocks separating the white cemetery on top of a hill from the African-American portion downhill in the woods.
Local resident Bobby Ling owns property around the Blair Cemetery and took it upon himself to clear away the cover of debris nature deposited through the years.
“It was a common thing to put slave cemeteries alongside white cemeteries,” Ling said. “They put cemeteries in places where they couldn’t grow crops, so the old cemeteries can be hard to get around.”
Although Ling is now 80 years old, he began work on the project last winter.
“Had I known what a job this would turn out to be, I probably wouldn’t have started,” he said.
The old Army veteran persisted and has crafted a beautiful restoration of the plots with the cedar crosses with assistance from his cousin, James Easter.
“I had to get the leaves and limbs out to find any markers,” he said.
To date, Ling has identified 67 graves, most of which only had a small piece of natural stone for a marker. Ling crafted a step-down bridge at the head of the cinderblock wall and made cedar crosses for the graves at his sawmill.
“I don’t remember the last burial in the black cemetery,” Ling said. “I believe they ought to be honored, regardless of their race or station in life.”
Ling will remain with the project, now that the heavy lifting is done. The cemetery has accumulated sufficient funds to keep the property maintained for years to come.
“I enjoy every day. This must be the reason I’m still here,” Ling said.