Protesters say new city park is desecrating graves at African American slave cemetery

COWETA COUNTY, Ga. — A small group is fighting to preserve part of the African American heritage in Newnan is protesting the construction of a park that may be on top of historic grave sites.

Channel 2′s Steve Gehlbach was in Coweta County Monday, where construction is almost complete on the newly renovated C. Jay Smith Park.

Across the street from the county’s African American Heritage Museum, the historic Farmer Street Cemetery is tucked into a wooded area.

[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]

Marked only by pipes and flags, the four acres are the final resting place for African Americans, both free and slaves, dating back 20 years in Newnan.

Surveys and radar scans found up to 250 gravesites.


“The rest of the land back up into here, that was the cemetery,” Render Godfrey said. “They’re coming into an area that was known as a cemetery, desecrating it, destroying it, and saying, ‘It’s okay.’ It’s not okay.”

The group protesting on Monday said historical records possibly show that the cemetery is actually three or four times larger.


We suspect that the remainder of 12 (acres) may be part of the original cemetery,” a woman at the protest said.

That land is now being redeveloped as part of the renovation of C. Jay Smith Park that sits next to the Farmer Street Cemetery. The city is adding parking, playgrounds, a splash pad and a huge new skate park.

The part of the cemetery that is known will remain untouched, but those gathering to protest said the cemetery actually extends down into the new park.

[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]

Protesters are upset the African American and descendent community was never consulted, never gave input and that announcements were never posted.

Ayisat Idris-Hosch with the Newnan African American Alliance said the city didn’t even consult the local chapter of the NAACP.

“I have asked everyone. I have knocked on doors,” Idris-Hosch said. “I have asked the NAACP. I have asked other organizations within this community and no. We were not consulted about what was going on.”

But a statement sent to Gehlbach reads:

“The city held public participation events through preliminary concept meetings, stakeholder meetings, community input sessions and surveys. These forms of public participation allowed residents, local business owners and interest groups to share their feedback and input with city officials surrounding the project.”

Gehlbach checked back with the city Monday. Officials said that since the start of construction at the park almost two years ago, no human remains have been uncovered or disturbed.