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ETBU, Wiley students clean up Love Cemetery in Scottsville

By Joe Holloway jholloway@marshallnewsmessenger.com
Sept. 22, 2012 at 10 p.m.

<p>China Galland, author of Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves, addresses students gathered to help clean up historic Love Cemetery in Scottsville on Saturday morning.</p>

Students from East Texas Baptist University and Wiley College teamed up to clean up Love Cemetery in Scottsville on Saturday morning.

Kerl Nathaniel, Advisor for the Nate Parker Scholarship at Wiley, said it was the best turnout he'd seen in 3 years of helping organize groups of students to go help maintain the historic African-American cemetery.

"It's the first year we're doing it with ETBU," he said. "It's very impressive to see all these kids from Wiley and ETBU out here."

Nathaniel said representatives from a number of Wiley's student organizations woke up early to catch the school's bus out to Scottsville at 8 a.m.

"We also have our freshman class officers. This is their first time," said Nathaniel. "We've got the debate team out here. A couple of the debate members have been here before, but a majority of the debate team has not.

"It's a very big collaboration."

Dr. Melody Maxwell, Director of ETBU's Great Commission Center, said her school's students were excited to be able to see the cemetery, which has some graves that predate the civil war.

"We are really excited to be out here," she said. "It's a very historic site. To be able to go into some place like this, it's a great privilege for us and we're really excited about partnering with our friends at Wiley and helping serve our community as Christ would have us do."

With her, Dr. Maxwell brought several members of ETBU's athletic teams.

"We talked to the coaches and told them what we were doing," she said. "So we have some of our women's basketball team and our football team here and we're grateful that they've come out."

Dr. Maxwell said she had recently finished reading Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves, by China Gallard, and learned a great deal about the history of the cemetery.

"In the book it says some of them couldn't afford gravestones," said Dr. Maxwell. "Some of them just have what was supposed to be a temporary marker, others marked the graves with what was a woman's sewing machine. One there was a rifle stuck in the ground, just anything they could to mark the site of the grave."

"I think it's a fascinating and a rich piece of our history."

Despite its historic relevance and the fact that many descendents of those buried in the cemetery still live close by, access to the cemetery, which is surrounded by private property, is limited and the grounds quickly become overgrown as a result.

"Many of the people buried there couldn't afford gravestones so they planted wisteria on their relatives' graves and after 42 years a wisteria vine and a bunch of them growing together begins to look like something out of Star Wars," said Marshall historian Gail Beil. "The first time I ever saw it, which was 5 or 6 years ago, the wisteria was 6 feet high and was woven like a basket."

According to Ms. Beil, descendents of the buried looking to pay their respects and volunteers looking to help maintain the cemetery are regularly locked out by the local land owners, despite a Texas law that says it's illegal to block families from access to cemeteries.

"The problem is there are no teeth in it," she said. "For about 18 months it was locked up again and the place re-grew with wisteria because it wasn't killed, it was just chopped off."

However, Ms. Beil said they were at least granted access one more day before hunters began to arrive on the land.

"China (Gallard) is bringing the key to the gate," she said. "This is the last time we'll be able to clear it because by this time next week all the hunters will be out shooting anything that moves. So that's basically what we're doing today."

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