Smyrna restores historic cemetery where former slaves are buried

SMYRNA, Ga. — Former slaves and their descendants are buried at Mount Zion Cemetery in Smyrna.

For years it was invisible, but city leaders made it a priority to restore the property on Hawthorne Avenue.

“It was in a complete state of disrepair. You wouldn’t even recognize it,” said Smyrna councilman Travis Lindley. “This (cemetery) was covered in probably 8 to 10 feet of brush. There was some very large oak trees that died. One of them had fallen over.”

Lindley told Channel 2′s Chris Jose the city took over the property in 2019 and pumped $100,000 into it to clear trees, build a fence and wall, improve landscape and restore headstones.

“We had to get this right,” Lindley said.

Documents show Mount Zion Church was founded after the Civil War.

“The congregation got started in 1877. These were formerly enslaved people,” said Smyrna museum manager Jennie Eldredge.

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Eldredge said the earliest known burial occurred in 1903.

“This cemetery is a place on the landscape that tells part of the African American history of Smyrna. This is a testament to their lives, their struggles and accomplishments,” Eldredge said.

Lisa Castleberry told Jose she never thought she’d see the day when the cemetery would be visible again.

“I’m just happy to see it look like this. That I live to see it,” Castleberry said.

Castleberry grew up and still lives in Rose Garden, which is the city’s historic Black neighborhood. Through the years, neighbors tried to maintain it, but they got older, and the work got to be too much.

“I’m just walking around and seeing the names of people that I know. Some of their family members who are still alive,” Castleberry said. “It just makes me want to cry. I’m just so happy.”

Smyrna will host a dedication on Feb. 20 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

For more information about the history of Mount Zion Cemetery, CLICK HERE.

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