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New Beulah Cemetery plan would use public funding

[5/19/04]Yet another plan to rescue Beulah Cemetery is in the works, this one aided by legislation allowing public money to be spent in the private graveyard.

Beulah, estimated to have 5,500 burials of black citizens, was created in 1884 off what was heavily traveled Jackson Road.

With the creation of the Vicksburg National Military Park in 1899 and the closure of Jackson Road decades ago, the cemetery gates are now near the dead end of Martin Luther King Drive.

Saving Beulah from washouts and overgrowth by trees and brush has been a decade-long effort. It was aided by a special legislative allocation in 1999 of $50,000, but that money ran out after some clearing and maintenance work was done.

Tuesday, the committee that oversees the 15.8-acre cemetery met with city and county officials to renew talks.

“I’ve been telling them for three years that we’re going to do something and I’m embarrassed that nothing has happened,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens, who had favored the city’s accepting the deed to Beulah.

Instead, the legislation says Vicksburg and Warren County labor and equipment can be used in the cemetery under an in-kind services arrangement.

Tuesday, Leyens advocated one big cleanup day, including filling in sunken graves, cutting grass and grading roadways. He also suggested that it would be good day for the committee to have a fund-raiser.

Yolande Robbins, head of the cemetery committee, said it would be ideal to create a perpetual-care fund that would generate cash needed for maintenance. She also said that would be a real challenge.

Robbins said the historic cemetery is becoming lost to history. Immediate decedents of people buried there are dying and there is little room for new plots.

“We’ve got two or three generations of young blacks who don’t know the history of Beulah,” Robbins said.

The cemetery was established by Tabernacle No. 19 Independent Order of Brothers and Sisters of Love and Charity, a fraternal order that had wide support among blacks. It was named for the proverbial Beulah Land of biblical origin.

Burials slowed after the 1940s, and so did maintenance.

“Ultimately, I believe it is the city’s responsibility to maintain the cemetery,” Leyens said. “They’re the same people buried out there as those over at Cedar Hill. It’s just a different standard.”

The city’s public cemetery, one of the largest in the state, is about two miles from Beulah.

City officials said they will meet with county officials next month to discuss how to share in the workload. They said they will aim to do the work in early July.

“My main concern is that this is not wrapped around the city’s neck,” said Warren County District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield. “The county should have a role in this.”