A three-year investigation by WSB-TV has led to the discovery of more than two dozen graves from a Black cemetery in DeKalb County, Georgia.
Fred Kinnemore, a deacon of the St. Paul Baptist Church, said no one believed him when reached out to the news outlet in 2018. Now the 50-year deacon has the proof.
“Just knowing that they’ve covered it up, for all this time,” Kinnemore said. “Once the deceased has been disturbed, you can’t bring it back.”
St. Paul Baptist Church was one of the first to be built along Wilson Road, which used to be a dirt road for horses and buggies to pass through. Shortly after, white people came to the area and reportedly didn’t like having a Black church in their neighborhood.
In the 1930s, the church was moved to a new location on Nelms Drive.
When asked if he felt the St. Paul was pushed out of its original location, Deacon Kinnemore said, “The church was run out. I don’t feel it, I know it.”
Despite the church’s relocation, it kept its cemetery in its original place. Deacon Kinnemore’s father maintained it, and eventually the responsibility fell to him. After Deacon Kinnemore returned from serving in the Vietnam War, ready to begin maintaining the gravesites, he found the county had paved a road right through it.
“If you are going to pay respects to your people, or anybody, you need to be able to get to them,” he said.
The new outlet’s investigation prompted city officials to hire the archaeological team that used sonar imaging to find 26 possible graves.
On Friday (February 19), an archaeological team hired by the country dug up four suspicious areas along Wilson Road, and found one.
“This is exactly the type of features that we associate with finding a historic gravesite,” the archaeologist said.
Christie Hines, Kinnemore’s niece, said racism led to the road paving. “They didn’t want the Blacks in the area and the ultimate goal was to get us away by any means necessary,” she said. “Even paving over our ancestors.”
Segregation in cemeteries across the US was commonplace for centuries. A cemetery in Louisiana recently came under fire when it tried to impose a “whites only” clause to refuse burial of a Black man.
DeKalb County’s CEO Michael Thurmond agrees with the family’s belief, but said a court order would be necessary to move the gravesites.
“Obviously, if our research determines that there are additional burial sites here then the most appropriate thing to do of course is to exhume them and then hopefully reinter them in another location,” Thurmond said.
“They deserve the respect of actually uncovering it to show that there are graves here,” Deacon Kinnemore said.
Thurmond is slated to present the findings on Tuesday (February 23) in a nearly 100-page report. From there, family members and residents of the community will meet with the county to go over next steps.
Photo: Getty Images