AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Some of Augusta’s famous African-American contributors can be found in one of the city’s oldest cemeteries.
Augusta’s first 100 years brought many people to town. They brought with them life and everything that comes with it. Once those lives came to an end in the early 1800s, if you were African-American, you went to Cedar Grove. We spotlight the once colored cemetery and show you how without those lives the Garden City wouldn’t be what it is today.
Make no bones about it cemeteries can be scary, especially at night. But when the sun rises, tombstones at the nearly 200-year-old burial ground tell stories of black pride.
“In 1820 they were running out of spaces to be buried, St. Paul’s in particular, so they decided to open up a city cemetery,” Jerry Murphy told NewsChannel 6.
Cedar Grove Cemetery, off East Boundary in East Augusta, is rich with black history.
“They just really were the movers and shakers,” he said.
Augusta set aside 40 acres of land to bury slaves. It was done in wooden boxes leaving many nameless.
Many names are all listed in a record book in the original writing. Book A, which survived a flood and had some of the words rewritten and its pages laminated, tells names, ages, dates of death, diseases and sometimes if they were slaves or freedmen.
With the help of Cedar Grove’s manager, we found the oldest marked grave.
Here lie the body of Sarah Ann, daughter of J. & E. Bouyer. Who died on the 12th Sept. 1823. Aged 11 months & 17 days
“It’s just an honor to have all this,” Murphy said.
Cedar Grove was knowns as the Colored Cemetery before the 1930s. Next to it is Magnolia Cemetery, once known as City Cemetery, where many slave owners can be found. Murphy said both received new names around 1932.
Nicolas de lAigle, a French refugee from Haiti, is one of them. He owned more than 100 slaves and was considered one of Augusta’s first citizens in 1818. His portrait and a description of his life can be found along with his descendants in the Magnolia Cemetery Office.
Some of Augusta’s prominent black citizens now rest among the more than 44,000 people buried in Cedar Grove.
“The first black dentist, the first principal,” Murphy listed.
We found the first black Augustan who elected to the state Legislature since Thomas Beard was elected during Reconstruction. That took place in 1966 and the man was Mr. Richard Algernon “R.A.” Dent. 13th Street was renamed in his honor, which runs through the medical district of Augusta. His brother Benjamin Linton “B.L.” Dent is buried next to him. In 1965, he became the first black elected to city government.
Some names listed on tombstones we may recognize from Richmond County schools. Those names found on grave markers are Dr. Thomas Walter “T.W.” Josey, Augustus Roberson “A.R.” Johnson and Walter S. Hornsby, who helped start Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Company as a teenager. It became a top 10 black-owned company in America in the 80s. Students attend high schools named after these men.
Then there’s the Amanda Dickson Toomer statue, which tells of her riches after her plantation owner father, David Dickson, left her his property in Hancock and Washington Counties.
“Makes you very proud,” Murphy said.
We hope you take time to stop by Cedar Grove Cemetery. Check it out online here.
Then head over to the Augusta Genealogical Society and learn about the old souls who once called this place home.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps & Renetta DuBose