The tours hosted by the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center of the 34 known African American cemeteries in Bulloch County will resume Saturday with a rediscovered site, the Brown Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery.
Brown Chapel ME Cemetery is located in a forest area off Lakeview Road. Tour participants will meet at the Willow Hill Center, 4235 Willow Hill Road, near Portal, at 8 a.m. and travel to the cemetery for a one-hour tour. Transportation will be available. The tour series is free and open to the public.
Dr. Alvin D. Jackson, who leads the tours as an oral historian, rediscovered this cemetery in 2009, his wife, Dr. Gayle Jackson, indicated in a news release about the tour. The last burial there had taken place in 1983.
“Most of the members of Brown Chapel Methodist Church have died off, and therefore the cemetery has been in disrepair and has been lost to the woods for more than 40 years on Ray Beasley's place,” Dr. Alvin Jackson wrote in a historical summary.
Beasley’s place was at one time owned by Rhonie Scott, Jackson said, attributing this information to David Lee.
Over the years, Jackson had interviewed a number of older people, who have since died, who talked about Brown Chapel Church, the cemetery and a Brown Chapel School, he wrote.
“One such person was my great uncle Elder Buford ‘Doogie’ Lee, 1908-2001, a Primitive Baptist minister,” Jackson states. “He mentioned Brown Chapel during one of my oral recording interviews with him as he talked about the family history, customs and traditions.”
Jackson identifies several other individuals he interviewed, and details of the quest that led to his 2009 discovery of the site.
The exact date of the founding of Brown Chapel Church is unknown. It is believed to have been organized just after slavery during Reconstruction in the 1870s, as the oldest tombstone found in the cemetery dates from 1877, Jackson reports.
In 1918, Brown Chapel Church, but not the cemetery, was moved about a mile from its original site to the intersection of Bernard Smith Road and Mallard Pond Road. This was a white-framed wooden church with a bell tower.
This church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1952. Brown Chapel was never rebuilt and the members joined various other churches in the county with many joining the Brannen Chapel Methodist Church, organized in Statesboro in 1892.
Jackson reports that Brown Chapel ME Cemetery contains 38 marked graves, as well as nine burials known from death records and oral interviews whose locations are unknown. Many graves in the cemetery are unmarked, he said.
He and Ernest “Buck” Lee are leading efforts to restore graves and identify unmarked graves in the cemetery.
The Willow Hill Center launched the tour series a year ago to honor the Commemoration of 400 Years of African-American History, 1619-2019. Tours are generally held one Saturday each month. Brown Chapel Cemetery is the 13th burial ground to be toured and the first in 2020.
For more information, contact Dr. Gayle Jackson, (912) 800-1467.