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Tombstone preservation inspires cemetery "Decoration Day"

In lieu of ghosts and goblins, the African American Heritage Trail Committee in Liberty County will kick off its east end cemetery preservation initiative inviting the community to participate in "Decoration Day," Saturday Oct. 28 from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m. at Midway First Presbyterian Cemetery located at 672 N Coastal Hwy, Midway, GA 31320.

This is an event for African American residents in communities throughout Liberty County to honor their ancestors who are buried at the cemetery, to call forth a lost tradition, and to celebrate the past in an effort to understand the hopes of the future. Graves will be decorated with meaningful items that exemplify the personalities, professions, beliefs, and folkways of ancestors who are entombed at this extant African American sacred burial ground.

Decorating graves is a burial practice that dates back to Africa prior to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and which clandestinely continued throughout the enslavement period. In 1842, the noted Midway Presbyterian minister, Rev. Charles Colcock Jones, attempted to inculcate his slaves and others on surrounding plantations with Christianity by creating a catechism for Negroes. In turn, the enslaved inverted his efforts into an Africanized Christianity which they practiced in the brush arbors throughout the county.

However, “Decoration Day” per se began in April 1865 with freed people caring for the remains of Union Soldiers buried in a mass grave at a horse track turned Confederate prison in Charleston, South Carolina. Freedmen disinterred the bodies and gave them a proper burial for fighting for their freedom during the War Between the States. Yale University professor David Blight calls this "Decoration Day" the first "Memorial Day."

The preservation committee members consist of what the Geechee-Gullah call the “Binyah” folks who have a continuous link to Liberty County’s coastal culture for centuries and the “Cumyah” folks who are more recent migrants to the area.

Willie Mae Washington is a native of Midway and the elder over property management at Midway First Presbyterian Church.  Rose Mullice, the committee genealogist, was also born in Midway and is a keeper of the names.  These two individuals are the “Binyah” members. Rev. Dr. Jamil el-Shair, pastor of Midway First Presbyterian Church, is a “Cumyah” along with Hermina Gates-Hill the group’s historian and cultural heritage preservation specialist.

Binyah and Cumyah, the entire community is welcome to celebrate with us. Specifically, we are asking all families with ancestors and love ones buried at Midway First Presbyterian Cemetery to register to decorate a grave. Also there will be a video booth for families to record stories.

This event will take place on Saturday Oct. 28 from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m. at Midway First Presbyterian Cemetery located at 672 N Coastal Hwy, Midway, GA 31320. For more information call 912-884-5967.

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