Thanks for support of Watkins cemetery

Published 8:35 am Monday, June 18, 2007

To the citizens of Natchez and the taxpaying residents of Adams County, being a humble servant when you are an elected official can be difficult and down right impossible at times. However, your oath and pledge to leave the world a better place than you found it sometimes will not let you stop.

With that said, the point at hand is the great job that’s being done at the historic Watkins Street Cemetery. For years, this cemetery has gone ignored and neglected until the worthy Women’s Association, lead by Ms. Thelma White, lit the torch that gave light to a new historical idea.

In 1909, eight deacons from different churches founded the tract of land with one specific goal in mind. It was to provide a suitable tract of land for the black community to be buried.

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It just so happened that A.A. Newell, who was one of the founders, is also my great-great-uncle. Therefore, it was inevitable that I join Ms. White in her quest to preserve one of Natchez’s historic jewels.

On April 23, 1941, Natchez entered into one of history’s darkest moments. Over 200 people lost their lives in one of the deadliest fires in the nation’s history, the Rhythm Night Club Fire. Many of the bodies were unidentified because their bodies were burned beyond recognition.

Therefore, it was misperceived that those that there were unclaimed were put in a mass grave. But through the wonderful records provided by Ms. White, this was proven not to be the case.

Though we had many painstaking hours of researching public records and an actual eyewitness account, Mr. McKinley Barnes, we were able to take our case to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

We provided proof of individual burials and not mass burials, along with the cemetery’s 100-year-old status. This allowed the Watkins Street Cemetery to qualify for the Trustee Labor Law that would be provided by county inmate trustees supervised by Chuck Latham. Once the legal loopholes were ironed out, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office went to work.

With the diligence of the trustees and the leadership of Ms. Thelma White, Watkins Street Cemetery has never looked better. So as we seek future leadership in these trying times in our community, let us not forget our silent heroes in the decision-making positions.

I would like to thank Adams County Board of Supervisors President, Darryl Grennell, The Adams County Sheriff’s Office, headed by Ronny Brown, and last but not least the eight deacons of 1909 who decided to make Watkins Street Cemetery possible.

Barney Schoby II is a Natchez resident.