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The South Asheville Colored Cemetery 1840-1943 Wilburn Hayden, Jr. As a people trying to regain our history, African-Americans often have to look to religious institutions, tax records of property, a major racial incident, or a distinguished black person of considerable accomplishments. Seldom do we find an opportunity that looks at the past from an ordinary African-American perspective . This writing is such an account. It examines blacks as a people meeting basic needs. The South Asheville Colored Cemetery serves as a focal point, linking to us a small piece of the culture as it was during the early 1900s. In 1840 Asheville was a small town with regulations regarding where burials took place. Where does one bury slaves? Since it was unacceptable for slaves to be buried in the white cemeteries of the day, the McDowell family of Asheville provided land in the area we now call the South Asheville black community. This land became the burial ground for Asheville black slaves. George Avery, one of the McDowell family s slaves, was responsible for the care of the cemetery . He served as the cemetery caretaker after the Civil War and until his death. With the ending of slavery, the black church emerged as the central social institution for black people. The churches, through the ministers, were the voice to the white society, the sources of educational opportunities, community bonds, and social status. Much like the white churches of Appalachia, the black churches emerged after slavery with land adjacent to the church for a cemetery. This was the pattern in Haywood, Jackson , and other counties in the mountains where blacks were found. From 1840, Asheville had a common cemetery which predated the establishment of the black churches. Though it is not clear when the Burial Association/Cemetery Board was founded jointly by St. John A. Baptist Church and St. Mark AME Church, the Asheville Colored Cemetery became the place for burying members of the two churches as well as other black residents of South Asheville. When my family came to Asheville in 1922 we joined the St. John A. Baptist Church ... I found that there was already what was called the Burial Association/ Cemetery Board which was staffed by members from the St. John A. and St. Mark Church ... I remember Mr. John Ragsdale was a member of the Board . . . Both churches took care of the cemetery . . . and as far as I knew both churches owned the land that the churches and cemetery was on . . . If you or your family member were not a member of either St. John A. or St. Mark, then there was a burial fee of between $75 and $85 to be paid . . . There was also a fee of $15 to be paid to the gravedigger ... In those days that was considered a lot of money and some families would dig their own family members' graves to save money ... the burial fee at South Asheville was low 27 compared to most burial grounds who were charging $115 and higher. The arrangements for burial were made between the members of the Cemetery Board Committee and the undertakers. One of the undertakers would notify the committee that they had a body and that the family requested burial at the South Asheville Cemetery. . . . The committee would review the request and grant permission for the burial. (Rev. Benjamin F. Brewer, August 19, 1989) During the second or third decade, blacks were allowed burial in a portion of the city-owned Riverside Cemetery. Individuals not having burial insurance or the fees for the South Asheville Cemetery were buried in Riverside Cemetery. Now back then Riverside was the only white cemetery that would bury blacks . . . but they put all the blacks down on the back side of the cemetery. (Ms. Annie Mae Bolden, August 15, 1989) Most of the cemetery was made up of family plots. Families would use small fences, vegetation, or markers to distinguish their plots. It was a beautiful headstone with praying hands. . . . There used to be three headstones out there. . . . We had a plot [that] was fenced in at one time. . . . My grandmother had a headstone, my aunt Delia had a headstone and there was one headstone...


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