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Grave Decoration Day to preserve African traditions
Hermina Glass-Hill
Hermina Glass-Hill

In lieu of ghosts and goblins, the African American Heritage Trail Committee in Liberty County will kick off its east-end cemetery preservation initiative Saturday.
The community is inviting people to a Decoration Day from noon to 4 p.m. at Midway First Presbyterian Cemetery, 672 N. Coastal Hwy. It is for African American residents throughout the county to honor ancestors 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 items that exemplify the personalities, professions, beliefs, and folkways of ancestors who are entombed at this extant African American 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 enslavement.
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 slaves. 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 proper burials 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.
Willie Mae Washington, a Midway native, is 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 “binyah” members. The Rev. Dr. Jamil el-Shair, pastor of the church, is a “cumyah.”
Binyah and cumyah, the entire community is welcome to celebrate with. Specifically, families with ancestors and loved ones buried in the cemetery are asked to register to decorate a grave. Also there will be a video booth for families to record stories.
The cemetery is at 672 N. Coastal Hwy., Midway, across from the church. For more information call 912-884-5967.

Glass-Hill, a “cumyah” resident of Midway, is a historian at Ubuntu Strategic Concepts, an African American cultural heritage preservation and research firm

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