Mayersville farmer wants cemetery protected

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 22, 2004

Tommy Bowles points out pieces of equipment around the resting place of some of his relatives and others in an Issaquena County cemetery, which he would like to see recognized for protection. (Jon GiffinThe Vicksburg Post)

[11/21/04]MAYERSVILLE If you don’t know where it is, you’re not going to find it. Which, says Tommy Bowles, is precisely the problem.

Bowles, a 69-year-old Issaquena County farmer, is trying to obtain official recognition for a cemetery on Windham Farms. Bowles estimated that dozens of people may be buried there, including his great-grandparents.

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Bowles’ farm is about a quarter-mile down Grant Road on land that has been in his family for several generations. He also has a small cemetery on his property, mowed and fenced beneath a large tree. It is the final resting place of his grandparents, among others.

Up the road, the scene is a bit different.

All that’s left of the other cemetery is three tombstones, the oldest dating to 1906.

For most of the 20th century, the cemetery has been neglected. Bowles’ mother often battled with previous property owners about parking farm equipment on the land. At one point, Bowles said, a hog pen was on top of the cemetery.

“It used to frustrate the heck out of my mama,” Bowles said.

Now several pieces of farm equipment sit on the land. Bowles said some of it hasn’t been moved in decades.

The current property owner, Waye Windham, could not be reached for comment.

The cemetery has historical significance, he believes, because it is one of the few where both blacks and whites are buried. Traditionally, blacks and whites were buried in separate cemeteries.

“Blacks were buried on one side and white were on the other,” he said.

The legal thicket concerning old cemeteries is thorny.

There is no official process to recognize a cemetery, said Scott McCoy, a review and compliance assistant at the Department of Archives and History.

Mississippi does have a cemetery desecration law, which prohibits building on or disturbing any area, marked or not, where human bodies are buried, McCoy said.

The state also has an abandoned cemetery program that allows a board of supervisors to clean up a cemetery that has been declared by the department to be abandoned.

“It’s a paperwork tool that allows the county to use public money on private property,” McCoy said.

Issaquena Board of Supervisors attorney Charles Weissinger said his county doesn’t have much to do with cemeteries.

“I haven’t ever stumbled on anything that puts them in the cemetery business,” Weissinger said.

In Warren County, two cemeteries, the Old Hopewell, adjacent to Warrenton Elementary School’s parking lot, and Asbury, near Timberlane at the end of Halls Ferry Road, have been certified as abandoned cemeteries under state law and are eligible for county funding. The City of Vicksburg also used city crews this summer to help clean Beulah Cemetery off Martin Luther King Drive.

Active cemeteries are regulated by the state Department of Health, Weissinger said.

The problem with getting public recognition of old cemeteries lies in their sheer numbers, he said.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of these cemeteries,” he said.

Last year, the Mississippi Heritage Trust listed historic cemeteries statewide on it’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places. The number of abandoned and neglected cemeteries in Mississippi is not known.