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Cemetery in Claiborne needs help, residents say

Golden West Cemetery Committee president C.E. Scutter and treasurer Lenora Dotson are two Port Gibson residents trying to get the three-acre burial ground cleaned up. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[02/05/01] Like Vicksburg, Claiborne County has a historic private cemetery in need of cleaning up.

In Vicksburg, officials awarded a contract in December to clear weeds and brush and partially restore Beulah Cemetery. A years-long effort culminated two years ago in an award of $50,000 in state money for the work.

In Claiborne County, Golden West Cemetery is located on Rodney Road just outside the Port Gibson city limits. It was first used as a burial ground for black residents of the area about 1900, but by about 1970, burials had dwindled and the 3-acre site had grown up in weeds and brambles, said Al Hollingsworth, the Port Gibson Main Street manager who has taken an interest in the cemetery.

Work there will be done by Claiborne County personnel.

“I became interested in Golden West when a white businessman here in Port Gibson said he would pay for a historic marker if someone would clean it up. This was seven or eight years ago,” Hollingsworth said.

Port Gibson resident C.E. Scutter made a request to the Claiborne County Board of Supervisors that piqued the board’s interest.

Scutter said he became interested in Golden West because many people who live in Claiborne County have relatives buried there. “I even have people buried out there,” he said.

At one time, the cemetery was pretty well taken care of, Scutter said.

“But after a couple of senior citizens died out, it sort of went down,” he said.

After the board became interested, said Allen Burrell, the board’s attorney, they adopted a two-pronged approach.

One prong was to ask Rep. America “Chuck” Middleton, who represents Claiborne County and part of Jefferson, to introduce a local and private bill.

The result of that was House Bill 1539 which would authorize Claiborne supervisors to clean up and maintain Golden West, if they decided to do so.

The second line of attack was to go through the Department of Archives and History.

The second line was the first to bear fruit, said Elbert Hilliard, archives director.

On Jan. 19, the department’s board of trustees took action under a 30-year-old law and issued a certificate of historical significance, Hilliard said.

At the same time, the trustees also granted an exception to one of the criteria set by the board that required that no burial had taken place for at least five years. That was necessary, Hilliard said, because someone was buried in Golden West about three years ago.

“I had to check with Scott McCoy who made the field inspection to make sure it met the criteria in all other ways except that,” he said.

With those facts in hand, the trustees granted the certification which also allows the board of supervisors to clean and maintain the cemetery.

A letter should have already been written to the Claiborne board, Hilliard said, but he had not gotten to it because of illness.

“This needs to be done,” Hollingsworth said. “There are four cemeteries around Port Gibson that are on the National Register and Golden West is one of the four.”

The others are the Catholic Cemetery, the Jewish Cemetery and Wintergreen Cemetery.

He also said Golden West is also listed on a National Park Service map of African American Sites as one of two sites in the Port Gibson area.

Hollingsworth said since the cemetery only dates to about 1900, it may or may not have the historically significant burials of other cemeteries, but it gains historic significance from being a typical example of a burial ground of its type. It also contains grave markers carved from stone as well as others made of concrete with hand etched inscriptions.

Clovis Reed, county administrator, said officials are waiting to receive written confirmation of the Archives and History trustees’ action before moving ahead.

Scutter said he and a few other people have organized and hope to take over beautification and upkeep of Golden West once the county gets it cleaned up.

Isabel Nash, another resident of Port Gibson, said she’s glad the county is authorized to clean up Golden West because she had wanted to bury her mother, whose funeral was last week, in the cemetery but conditions made it impossible.

“We didn’t even try to go in there, it’s so grown up,” she said.

Nash also mentioned the historic nature of the cemetery.

“There are a lot of old tombstones there and it would be a beautiful historic site,” she said, adding she had relatives buried there who were born in the 1800s.