Volunteers help restore African American cemetery left abandoned a century ago

FORSYTH COUNTY — An African-American cemetery in Forsyth County is being restored after it was abandoned over a century ago.

The Colored Methodist Church of Cumming once stood in the woods along Tolbert Street in Forsyth County and for the last 110 years, the graveyard had been forgotten. But recently, a civic group, Leadership Forsyth, cleared away the brush and weeds.

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Channel 2′s Berndt Petersen visited Cumming to see the changes made to the cemetery.

Volunteers who did the work said it is important to honor those who are laid to rest there. Chelsee Nabritt with Leadership Forsyth said she won’t forget how it made her feel.

“It was definitely heartbreaking to see it. It just looked like it needed help,” Nabritt said.

Assistant county manager David McKee said that what they found was phenomenal.

A county water department crew located 170 graves using a ground-penetrating radar. The first burials were in the 1880s, but in 1912, after a Black man was lynched in the area, more than 1,000 African-American residents were forced to leave Forsyth, and there was no one left to tend to the final resting places.

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The county has reached out to families with loved ones who were laid to rest there.

Leadership Forsyth started working to restore the cemetery this past January. During a special ceremony, they acknowledged the Forsyth of the past and embraced the present.

“We can still work together as brothers and sisters in making this nature of ours what it ought to be,” said Bishop Othal Lakey with Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Nabritt said they are moving forward and honoring those who need to be honored.

“It’s not hiding the past. It’s remembering what happened, and saying this is what happened. Yes, it is a shame. However, we are moving forward and honoring those who definitely need to be honored and respected,” Nabritt said.

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