Hiding in plain sight: family history unburied at African cemetery

MIDLAND, Ga. — A woman’s search for her family ended in a horrible discovery. She went to her ancestors’ final resting place but, could not find her relative.

The Pierce Chapel African Cemetery was destroyed. Now, that cemetery is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of “Most Endangered Historic Places.”

Yamona Pierce told Channel 2′s Wendy Corona that her visit to Midland, Georgia in search of family history was not what she expected.

The Pierce Chapel African Cemetery was hiding in plain sight.

“It’s in a wooded lot. There was no signage. And the cemetery had just been desecrated,” Pierce said.

The excitement of a historic connection turned into heartbreak and a whole lot of questions from Pierce’s young daughters.

“Mommy, what is this? What kind of place is this? Mommy, where did you bring us to?” they asked.

“As a mother, it just broke my heart,” Pierce told Corona,

The pre-emancipation cemetery was left in the past and forgotten.


Dr. Maurice Hobson, an associate professor of Africana studies at Georgia State University and a historian, gave Corona better insight into just how common this is.

“I would be willing to bet that every county in Georgia has 20 instances of this,” Hobson said. “A lot of the Black population were brought here as property. And so, they were not seen as human beings.”

So, rituals for the dead were deemed unnecessary, as was preserving their final resting place.

But it’s those rituals that Pierce and other descendants are now working to preserve.

She founded the Hamilton Hood Foundation, named after her third great-grandparents – Jane Hamilton and Owen Hood – to preserve the culture on what’s left of the heritage site.

Utility work divided and destroyed The Pierce Chapel African Cemetery when those companies were given the right of way.

“Everything that was in its path has been obliterated,” Pierce said.

Subtle signs from the past protrude from the earth. Headstones, pottery, and artifacts were all buried with ancestors. They are now exposed by time.

The genealogy group Family Search is working with the Hamilton Hood Foundation to gather information on the Pierce Chapel site. Ancestry has a page focused on researching African-American family history.


Comments on this article