Watkins Street Cemetery needs help

Published 12:17 am Sunday, September 30, 2007

Go north on Union Street; past Natchez College on the left, which was established by black Baptists in 1885 — the only black school until 1913 — and two blocks beyond is Watkins Street and the entrance to Watkins Street Cemetery.

There, on 15 acres of this 98-year-old cemetery, thousands of respected and beloved Natchezians are buried. Neglected, overgrown, and impassable in places, called a “public nuisance” by the Natchez Board of Aldermen, considered a disaster by the sheriff of Adams County, so who is responsible for this condition?

When there was no place for negroes to be buried other than the county church cemeteries and a limited space on the back of the city cemetery for prominent or wealthy persons, 10 concerned civic-minded blacks bought 15 acres of a rich man’s “shooting park” for a city burial site.

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The land was divided into plots and sold to individuals who were responsible for the upkeep of his plot. As families died out or left the city the forest began to take over. Now 100-year-old trees, bushes, vines, etc., dominate the cemetery.

Whose responsibility is it to maintain it? The city says it’s a private cemetery even though no provision was made for burying ordinary black citizens. Also, the city bought the right of way through the cemetery, there was no upkeep on it.

The county states the same reason. Families owning plots say they keep up their own even though the area around it is overgrown.

Assuming the responsibility, as a civic service is a small group of women organized as a non-profit organization, Worthy Women of Watkins Street Cemetery Association. The organization is dedicated to the clearing and maintenance of this historic site. They hope to draw public attention to the financial needs of the organization.

Last year, despite a very small budget of $2,000 from fundraising and small donations, some progress was made.

The organization needs annual and semi-annual pledges, donations and remembrance in wills.

The needs for upkeep and maintenance are: gravel for roads, railroad ties to curb erosion, equipment new or used, plants; white ribbon cane and bamboo for borders, ivy and ground cover for banks. Most of all, we need money to pay workers.

This cemetery is a historical part of our city. Help us to make it beautiful.

Thelma White is a retired teacher and the president of Worthy Women of Watkins Street Cemetery Association.