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Workers beat back nature at Beulah

City of Vicksburg workers, trimmers in hand, tackle the overgrowth at Beulah Cemetery this morning. (Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[6/30/04] Vicksburg workers descended on historic Beulah Cemetery this morning with trimmers, chainsaws and swingblades. As the cleanup began, they uncovered century-old gravestones, some long forgotten.

About 50 workers from the right-of-way, landscaping and community service departments began cutting through the overgrown vegetation around 7 as part of a plan to bring attention to the graveyard.

Although the plan is to clean up the private cemetery and then turn the maintenance back over to the group that oversees it, there were no citizen volunteers there early this morning.

Ray Banks, head of the city’s right-of-way department, said he expects to get at least halfway through the cemetery where some brush is at least 5 feet tall.

“After this, what they need to do is spray this with some sort of herbicide if they have the money for it,” said Banks, who oversees the maintenance of city property along streets and roads.

Jeff Richardson, head of the city’s landscape department, said the problem is that with the record rainfall in Vicksburg this summer, the cemetery will need a cleanup again by mid-July.

In previous years, the committee that oversees the cemetery has used funding through a state grant to cut and clean the property at the east end of Martin Luther King Drive, but that money has run out. Many of the graves are more than 100 years old, and committee members have said descendants have all died out, moved away or forgotten.

A few newer graves are still maintained by family members, but most are not visible from the roadway.

“My main concern is how will they continue to maintain this,” said Warren County District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield.

Although county crews were expected to assist with today’s scheduled cleanup, Mayfield said most of them were still spread out cleaning up damage from Sunday’s storm. He said a handful of inmates from the Warren County Jail were expected to be at the cemetery later in the day.

A small group of workers from the Vicksburg National Military Park also brought out equipment, including large mowers. The 15.8-acre cemetery is adjacent to the federal park.

The city, which usually cannot work on privately owned land, obtained special local and private legislation this year to allow the city to provide workers and use equipment at taxpayer expense at Beulah.

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.

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.

Today’s clearing and cleaning was expected to continue through the afternoon, weather permitting.