WAYNESBORO, Ga. — When you walk around Davis Park in the small city of Waynesboro, you might miss it.
Just feet away from a well-preserved Confederate soldier cemetery, and a shiny, bright-colored playground, sits a small stone marker with the words “slave cemetery” etched into a metal plate.
Emma Johnson-Williams was born in Waynesboro and is now in search of her ancestors. She believes they were buried there.
“Where are my people from? Who am I a part of?” Johnson-Williams asked. “It’s important to be able to find your grandparents, great grandparents, who you’re connected to.”
According to city records, in the early to mid-1800s there were two cemeteries on the piece of land along 6th Street: a white cemetery and what was titled at the time as a negro cemetery.
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At one point, the bodies of the enslaved Africans that were buried there were moved to nearby Pines Cemetery.
In 1961, the land was turned over to the Colored Women’s Club because the cemetery was in disarray.
In 1963, Black leaders requested the cemetery be repurposed and made into a playground.
“We were a little shocked that someone would build a playground on top of a cemetery,” said Carol Jones, president of the Burke County Historical Society. “They were mostly unmarked graves and we’re certain it was a slave cemetery because of the age.”
Jones said that, as stated in the 1931 Waynesboro City Council meeting minutes, some council members had reservations about the playground.
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“They were very nervous about doing something over the top of a cemetery,” Jones said.
She said Black leaders at the time wanted to provide a safe space for Black children to play.
Jones told Channel 2′s Audrey Washington that though the graves were moved, he believes more should be done to properly honor the lives of the people who were originally buried on the land.
“They contributed a lot to the society that they lived in even though they were in an unfair, unjustifiable situation,” Jones said.
Waynesboro Mayor William Tinley told Washington that because proper birth records and death certificates were not kept on many of the enslaved people, the city can’t definitively identify all of the people who were buried at the cemetery so, the city can’t obtain a historical marker.
“We tried and we tried,” Tinley said.
Still, the mayor said he’s going to change things. The city just received a grant to remodel the park.
He plans to include a memorial garden dedicated to the slave cemetery.
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“I think all of our citizens will be proud of it,” Tinley said.
“Their mark is still here, and their presence is still felt today,” Jones said.
The mayor plans to build that memorial garden in the space between the slave cemetery marker and that Confederate cemetery.
It’ll be a place for people to come, reflect and remember the lives of the enslaved Africans who were buried right on the land.
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