HARTSVILLE, S.C. – After 14 months of actual physical labor, the Marion Avenue Cemetery finally was recognized officially in a Martin Luther King Day ceremony held Monday.
A symbol of the Hartsville black community, the private cemetery was neglected for decades before then-Hartsville City Councilwoman Adlene Graham took it upon herself to restore the historic landmark.
According to documents, the cemetery is pre-19th century with many occupants from the late 1800s.
Graham, who served 24 years on the Hartsville City council, said she hounded city manages and the council to do something about the overgrown property but was met with resistance and the excuse that it was private property and not the city’s concern.
“City managers change. The city council changed,” Graham said. “When our city manager, Ms. Zeigler, became city manager, she said I hound her. I was thinking about nothing but the cemetery.”
Graham thanked everyone who was involved in the project.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said, commenting that none of this work would have been possible without their contributions of time and resources.
The first acre of land was opened in 1904 and was followed by an additional acre some years later. As best as current records can prove, there are 450 plots in the cemetery, 150 of which are identified with headstones or markers.
According to current District 1 City Councilman Tre Gammage, groups of volunteers from all over the Hartsville area have been putting in hours on selected Saturdays to clear underbrush and overgrown bushes and trees.
Brian Gandy, director of the Darlington Historical Commission, addressed the crowd about the historical nature of the day.
“I applaud the giving of your time today to celebrate the life force of everyone who is buried in this cemetery,” he said. “Remembering their contributions and paid honor to the persons who took a challenge early in life. Early in the days of our country, early in the 1900s, stepped forward and said together, ‘We’re going to bind our hands together as a community, and we are going to take steps forward together.’”
Historical marker 1678 reads: “Hartsville Colored Cemetery. The cemetery was founded by two mutual aid associations representing Hartsville’s African American community. The first acre was acquired in 1904 by the Hartsville Colored Cem. Association. A second acre was acquired in 1931 by the Mutual Cem. Association. The burials chronicle former slaves and local residents including professionals and veterans who served from the Spanish American War to the Vietnam War.”
Approximately 75 people attended the event on a cold day, preceded by an organized march from the Marion Avenue Cemetery to the Jerusalem Baptist Church several blocks away to continue with the Martin Luther King Day celebrations.