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Committee wants to buildculture of maintenance’

Jai Dobson, 9, works on her chalk design of what she is thankful for at the “Fall Art in the Park” contest at Halls Ferry Park Saturday. The program was sponsored by the Vicksburg Parks and Recreational Department with prizes given away to the best sidewalk chalk displays. Twenty-one children participated in the event. Jai is the daughter of Keith and Tracy Rogers of Vicksburg.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[11/19/01]Beulah Cemetery Committee members, for years strapped for cash to maintain their 117-year-old graveyard, decided Saturday to spend $307 from their own funds for upkeep and discussed strategies for future care.

The committee is using petty cash to fund volunteer maintenance on the 15.8-acre cemetery on the east end of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Leo Simms, a volunteer who is coordinating cemetery maintenance, will use the funds to buy supplies.

“(Simms) and his band of volunteers are clearing the fence lines, straightening fences, cutting leaning trees and filling in unmarked graves,” committee head Yolande Robbins said.

“We’re trying to get a lot of this growth cleaned up during the dry spell,” Simms said. “But we haven’t had a lot of luck with volunteers.”

In May, a local contractor completed cutting and cleaning the cemetery, reversing years of disrepair and dense weed growth.

“I haven’t seen a fence here in so long,” committee member Alyce Shields said. “It’s been a drastic change.”

The cemetery was created in 1884 by Tabernacle No. 19 of the Independent Order of Brothers and Sisters of Love and Charity for the burial of Vicksburg’s black residents. After Vicksburg’s Cedar Hill Cemetery was integrated in the 1940s, burials at Beulah slowed. As burials slowed even more, so did maintenance, and the cemetery was overrun by thick undergrowth.

In 1986, a group of women formed the cemetery committee. They had little success raising money until 1999, when state Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, attached $50,000 for the restoration project to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History budget legislation. The City of Vicksburg oversees the cemetery’s use of the funds.

Robbins said the committee has “about $15,000” of the grant money left and wants to use it to repair an entrance archway and to fill in the nearly 500 graves that have sunk with time.

“What we’re concentrating on now is raising the money to keep financing the volunteer effort,” Robbins said.

Robbins told the committee that it is time to educate the youth and churches about the cemetery’s importance.

“We need to get our churches and ministers involved on getting our young people out there,” Robbins said. “A lot of young folks don’t even know where Beulah is.”

The cemetery is now in a condition for people to begin maintaining their own plots, Robbins said. To that effect, the committee discussed chronicling the grave plots and organizing them by name and location, for easy access.

“It’s not exaggerating to say that if you’re black and born in Vicksburg, you have a relative buried at Beulah,” Robbins said. “I have grandparents buried here, but I’m not sure where.”

The committee expressed the need for community involvement in the cemetery.

“There has been a culture of neglect about Beulah cemetery. People had the impression that once (restoration) was done, it was done eternally,” Robbins said.

“If the public could see what’s already been done, we could build a culture of maintenance.”