DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - At 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings, members of St. Paul Baptist Church belt out songs of praise inside their tiny church on Nelms Drive in DeKalb County. The church was founded in the early 1900s, but it hasn’t always been located on Nelms Drive. In the late 1930’s, church members say racism drove them out of their original church on Wilson Road, a mile and a half away.
Fred Kinnemore, a deacon at the church, says the move came after white neighbors threatened the church and its tiny cemetery on church grounds.
“They desecrated the inside of the cemetery. After that, they said they were gonna put a bomb and just blow it up and that would get them out,” Kinnemore told Channel 2’s Sophia Choi.
Kinnemore’s grandfather, George, was one of the original founders of the church. A deed for the land on Wilson Road lists him as a trustee.
While the church held services at the new location, burials continued in the small cemetery on Wilson Road. Kinnemore’s father, a WWII veteran, maintained the property.
But Kinnemore said when he returned from Vietnam in 1969, the road was no longer the narrow gravel cut through he remembered.
“I discovered that they had paved the road,” he said.
He believes his ancestors are buried under the pavement.
"Those were my grandparents that are there and if you are going to pay respects to your people or anybody, you need to be able to get to them,” he said.
Channel 2 spent weeks looking through old documents and maps, some of them hand-drawn, to find record of when the road was paved and who paved it.
DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said he’s dedicated his life to researching African-American history and understands the difficulty of finding records.
“I also, though, would hesitate to say that this was done at the behest or under the authority of DeKalb County. It could have been done privately. I don’t know,” Thurmond said.
Kinnemore gave Channel 2 letters dating back to 1987 asking the county when the road was paved and about the possibility of disturbed graves.
In 2015, the county conducted an independent radar test on the road. Kinnemore said the results show where his ancestors are buried under the road. The county said the results were inconclusive.
Kinnemore believes there’s an easy way to find out for sure.
“Just dig it up and see what you find,” he said.
He said outside of moving the body, he wants three things -- a plaque acknowledging his ancestors, a fence to protect the cemetery and a commitment from the county to maintain it.
“With all the times that I've tried to talk to everybody over there, a marker and a fence was too much for them, so I know they're not gonna do anything else,” he said.
Thurmond told Channel 2 he is committed to protecting the remains of the people buried at the cemetery.
“I can tell you this, this CEO understands the importance of heritage of history and preserving that history and will work with the church and with him to provide a more fitting final resting place for those buried here,” Thurmond said.
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