Cemetery

Erma F. McGimpsey

 

The first burial ground for freed Blacks is now being preserved and is most difficult to reach.

 

Rock Hill Cemetery is located off NC 126 on road 1281. A cable is across the first entrance and a locked gate is about  2 miles at the next entrance down an almost impossible road to travel. You almost have to be dressed in hiking gear to reach it.

The cemetery might have been forgotten or overlooked if it had not been for some surviving descendants of early members of the Rock Hill A.M.E. Church.

 

The church was established in 1865, two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Most southern states were unaware (or didn’t want to acknowledge the signing) until then.

 

All Blacks in Burke County attended this church. Coa Willie Conley Whitworth, a direct descendent, attended a Count Commissioners meeting along with her  daughter, Doretha Rutherford and Bruce McDowell, to question the state of the property. At

 

At one time, Coa Willie had in her possession an original handwritten property deed, dated July 16, 1878.

 

In the early 90’s Crescent Resources started to develop land in and around Lake James. Troy Lucas, Project Manager for Crescent Resources said, “I knew several years ago there were several in holdings on the property, I just wasn’t sure who they belonged to”. The Obeth cemetery, which belonged to an early white congregation, was one of the holdings. A group of citizens had started cleaning that particular area.

 

However, at a community meeting held at Table Rock School in April 2004, Troy learned about the other in holding. After the meeting was over, Bruce Ervin, a community activist, pulled him aside and asked for a time to set a meeting later in the week. Troy met with the group a few days later. The meeting was attended by Bruce Ervin, Diann Revin, Sherman Martin, Hazel Martin, Pastor Annie B. Corpening, Norma E. Caldwell, Helen McDowell, Ben Cuthbertson, Jr. James O. Kincaid and James Chatman. They set aside a time to go clean up the area. Bruce Ervin was a key person in gathering people to help clean up the property. Those who came to clean up were, Gary Rutherford, Joe Conley, Coa Willie Whitworth, Doretha Rutherford, James Rutherford, Jim Powers, Gary Barrier, Troy Lucas, Donald Thomas, Ben Cuthbertson, Jr., Gene Rutherford, Bruce and Phillip Ervin, and the late Timothy McDowell.

 

Troy noted, ”It was a great interesting day, property lines were not properly drawn, and people who had relatives buried there helped determine by trees and old pieces of timbers that this was the line”. A deed was made out to Rock Hill AME Church, (which is no longer there). Even though it wasn’t stipulated, it would probably fall back to the National A.M.E. Church Organization.

 

This type of settlement has not digested well with those descendants left behind. Having the gates locked to the cemetery proves to be an inconvenience to those having relatives buried there.       

 

James O. Kincaid remembers growing up in the area, “My mother and I went and cleaned up the cemetery on all special days and we took flowers. It got to the point when we would go back within a week and the flowers would be gone”. At one time, He had threatened to break the locks on the gates.

 

Ella Fullwood Kincaid, Kincaid’s mother was the last person buried there. That was in 1960.

 

Coa Willie Witworth’s grandparents, great uncles, Aunts and cousins are all buried there. “I like to always have room to go in as you please, instead of the hassle of going to hunt someone down to get a key”. “I want to feel free and not like someone under bondage. I want to go and visit  my family members when I please, said Witworth. She’d like her daughter and children to be able to go and put flowers on the graves when they want to.  

Rock Hill A.M.E. Church was closed in 1962. The last pastor was Rev. Rupert Ferguson, who is now the pastor of Willow Tree A.M.E. Church.

 

According to Troy Lucas, the church site and the burial ground will be preserved.

 

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