Watkins Street Cemetery needs your help
Published 12:03 am Sunday, February 19, 2012
First known as the Natchez Colored Cemetery Association, the Watkins Street Cemetery is located at the 1300 block of Watkins Street. It came to be when 17 acres of the Old Gairads Shooting Park were legally purchased from A.E. James on March 19, 1909, by J.H.C. Henry, G.W. Brumfield, Wm. Cosey, D. Lewis, Henry Ireland, J.R. Ross, C.P. Hunter, Jas Cosgrove, A.A. Newell and G.L. Sanders.
In the cemetery there are many loved ones laid to rest. Not only are there Rhythm Night Club victims but also 23 veterans, of which some are Purple Heart recipients. There are also headstones dating back to as early as 1908. Minister Dorothy Hills and Carolyn Smith along with the Ameri-Corp recorded information from the headstones from which Adair Jackson prepared a directory of names and C.M. Boxley added them to the web page, www.forksoftheroad.net/cem_watkins_st.htm.
In the beginning, individual families cared for and maintained the plots of their loved ones. At times, family members may have hired others to take care of the maintenance of the cemetery. To name a few of the caretakers — beginning in the 1940s and after — there were Ed White, Ed Lamb, Mr. Jesse “Red” James and Alex Rollins. In the 1960s, Professor Robinson had a crew to work in the cemetery. Later, around the 1970s, the Adams County School Youth Program along with McKinley Barnes, Ruby Dixon, Walter Squalls, Curtis Ross, Albert Johnson, Leo Marvel and Burnette Bridgewater would share in the upkeep of the cemetery.
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Due to the lack of maintenance in late years, the cemetery became terribly overgrown. In 2005, a non-profit organization by the name of the Worthy Women of Watkins Street was formed. The original officers were Thelma White, president; Gloria Butler, secretary; Carolyn Smith, assistant secretary, then secretary; myself as treasurer; and Rosie Hawkins as assistant treasurer.
Beginning in 2010, the Adams County Court System and the WIN Job Center programs would send people to the cemetery for community service; also, the schools AOP programs send students to do community service. There have been many volunteers over the years. Honorary mention goes to the Adams County Master Gardeners for their work in cleaning and beautifying the Rhythm Night Club section.
Current officers elected in 2011 are Nellie Dottery, president; Anita Smith, secretary; Carolyn Smith, assistant secretary; myself as treasurer; and Rosalie Hawkins as assistant treasurer.
McKinley Barnes has served as caretaker for approximately 50 years.
Some accomplishments we have achieved are ongoing removal of trees and debris, lanes graveled and drainage installed by the City of Natchez, dirt by the county to fill in sunken graves, an entrance sign donated by Thelma White, a banner donated by Solar Bay, a banner donated by Carolyn Smith for the Rhythm Night Club section which was replaced Jan. 14 with a sign made and donated by Ray Brown. Our group has also received preservation awards from the Historic Natchez Foundation, the title of Unsung Hero from The Natchez Democrat and a letter of recognition from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
We are currently looking forward to a group of history students from the University of Tuskegee Alabama coming to map the cemetery.
At this time we are asking for any type of assistance and or support, whether monetary or time. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Monetary donations are used for the purchase of supplies such as gas, string, oil, weed spray, diesel and more. Some equipment that has been purchased includes weed trimmers, a power saw and lawn mowers. In the event volunteers are few, we may have to pay someone to help clean the cemetery.
Again, your donations would be greatly cherished. Donations can be sent to Worthy Women of Watkins Street Cemetery, P.O. Box 17893, Natchez, MS, 39122. Volunteers can contact Dottery at 601-442-5968, me at 601-445-9431 or Mr. Barnes at 601-445-8298.
We would like to thank those who have donated time and money.
Dorothy Sanders is the treasurer of the Worthy Women of Watkins Street.