Group dedicates new fence at Beulah as part of restoration efforts

Published 5:58 pm Sunday, June 10, 2018

Peggy Simpson Mosley stood at the edge of the entrance to Beulah Cemetery and looked out across the grounds.

“Had someone told me I would ever spend my time working in a cemetery, I would have boiled them alive,” she said. “But I have burned (trash), cleaned and it looks so beautiful and so much nicer, and I’m very proud that it’s on the National Registry (of historic places). I’m just proud to be part of this.”

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Mosley was one of several members of the Beulah Cemetery Restoration Committee who turned out Saturday morning for a brief ceremony dedicating the cemetery’s new fence and arch topped with angels that now adorn the historic black cemetery.

“It looks beautiful,” said Alyce Shields, one of the original members of the restoration committee. “I don’t know if you want to say that about a cemetery, but it’s beautiful. It really looks nice; it doesn’t look like the same place. The grass isn’t all over it like it was. It looks nice.”

Vicksburg National Military Park Superintendent Bill Justice, a committee member, said park officials worked with the committee to get a permit from the National Park Service to put the fence on park property, which is adjacent to the cemetery.

He said park officials also advised the committee on different issues involving the cemetery and the park, “Because we want something visually beautiful here, but we don’t want it to impact the park visitor experience. This design is really great.”

Athenia Jefferson, whose husband Robert was one of the owners of Jefferson Funeral Home, said the restoration was “really beautiful; we bought lots out here early on. We are just amazed at how wonderful and beautiful it is.”

Committee member James Brown recalled how the cemetery looked on his first visit.

“I’m a member of Post 213 of the American Legion. Three years ago, the commander said we had 100 and some military graves out here, and I and a guy named Carl Neal, we came out here to take care of those graves,” he said, “and when I got out here, the Johnson grass was over my head.”

He said he and Neal began cutting the grass in the cemetery, adding, “That’s how I became involved (in the restoration).”

Brown said he has also worked cutting the brush back and has worked with AmeriCorps workers to help with the cemetery. “They do a fantastic job,” he said.

“This cemetery is filled with the history of black Vicksburg,” committee member Yolande Robbins told the group during the ceremony’s opening remarks. A Vicksburg native, Robbins left the area for several years, returning in 1984. She recalled when she returned home several ladies were working to raise funds to restore the cemetery.

“When you look at it now — and I remember when I saw it then (1984) — it is beyond words to describe,” she said. “The grass was so tall, if you went in one way, you could not go back the way you came. This cemetery had been so neglected, so ignored over the years, that anyone who was asked to be a part of an effort to bring it back would have really run away.”

She said committee members organized fundraising efforts, adding the effort was supported by $1,000 donations from the city’s three black funeral homes — Jefferson, Dillon-Chisley and Robbins.

“With that incentive, we began the small steps to make the effort to restore this place. It was so meaningful to the women who began the effort, they knew the history of the cemetery, its beginnings in the late 1800s; they had stories to tell,” Robbins said.

Beulah, she said, was the official black cemetery.

“It was a sense of pride. There has been an ongoing effort to preserve it,” she said commending Mayor George Flaggs Jr. for his efforts as a state legislator and as mayor to help the cemetery.

Flaggs recalled as a child riding his bicycle by the cemetery “and you couldn’t see a cemetery, but along this field you could see some markers of a cemetery.”

He recalled his efforts to get the $50,000 in state funds for the cemetery. “This is the first and only cemetery, privately, that’s been given state funding,” he said.

Flaggs said he later got a special local bill passed in the Legislature that allows the city to provide in-kind service to help the cemetery, including a commitment to cut grass.

He recalled working with officials at the Vicksburg National Military Park to allow the city to extend the fence and the work on the arch and gate at the cemetery.

Flaggs also indicated more is proposed for the cemetery.

“What you have here is only the second phase,” he said, turning to the gate. “This property looks like it has value.”

Outlining the future, Flaggs said the cemetery will get a new fence and a kiosk to tell the cemetery’s history. He added a marker with the names of the committee members, living and dead, involved in the restoration project will be installed.

“History may not ever be recorded accurately, but it should never be forgotten,” he said. “If this is not hallowed ground, I don’t know what hallowed ground is.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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