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Statesboro’s historic ‘Colored Folks Cemetery’ site of Saturday’s tour
willow hill
One of the oldest known graves in the historic cemetery off East Olliff Street, that of Lizzie M. Roberson, dates from her burial in June 1899.

It has been renamed the A.C. Dunlap Memorial Cemetery, but many people still know the cemetery to be toured Saturday morning as the “Colored People Cemetery.”

Tour participants will meet at Thomas Grove Missionary Baptist Church, 500 East Olliff St., Statesboro, at 8:30 a.m. to travel to the nearby cemetery. This continues the series of tours, begun one year ago by the Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center, of the 34 known African American cemeteries in Bulloch County.

With nearly 700 graves, this cemetery is the largest African American burial ground in the county. Located on Olliff Street, it is behind the originally “all white,” Eastside Cemetery, which fronts on Northside Drive East. Eastside is owned and maintained by the city of Statesboro and no longer segregated.

Dr. Alvin D. Jackson, president of the Willow Hill Center’s board, will lead this tour as oral historian, as he has the others in the series. Sometimes members of associated churches or family members of people buried in a cemetery help to identify graves and tell ancestors’ stories.

A brief history provided by Jackson and his wife Dr. Gayle Jackson, the Willow Hill Center’s development director, notes that according to deed records, the cemetery was started in 1903 as “The Colored Folks Cemetery.” Later it was called the “Colored People Cemetery.”

But the Jacksons note that at least three graves in the cemetery predate 1903, the earliest being from 1899, calling the traditional founding date into question. Also, many of the graves are unmarked.

The A.C. Dunlap Memorial Cemetery continues to be used by many African American churches in Statesboro that do not have their own cemeteries.

Thomas Grove Missionary Baptist Church is nearest. Historically its burials were held in the cemetery, and many death certificates refer to it as the “Thomas Grove Cemetery,” the Jacksons note. But the cemetery is not the property of any church.

Thomas Grove was organized Feb. 24, 1895, at the home of Brother Lewis Thomas and his wife Amanda Joyce Thomas. Born into slavery in North Carolina in 1853, he was living in Bulloch County by the mid-

1870s. When Lewis Thomas died in 1929 he was buried in the “Thomas Grove Cemetery” in a grave that is now unmarked.

The Willow Hill Center volunteers have identified three other burials of formerly enslaved people in the cemetery: Mariah Pate, 1857-1947; Solloman Brown, 1861-1903; and Henry George, 1860-1948.

Minnie McTier, who died in 1920, mother of “Statesboro Blues” songwriter and musician Blind Willie McTell, is buried in the “Colored People Cemetery” in an unmarked grave.

One of the Willow Hill Center’s programs for the Commemoration of 400 Years of African-American History, the tour is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Gayle Jackson at (912) 800-1467.

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