By Bernard James
Consider these questions for a minute… Would you neglect someone you loved or something you cherished? Then again, would you be prepared to do something if someone abused or disrespected something that was near and dear to you?
Located just over a mile southeast of Latta’s central business district is a special site that is cherished by those in the community. Not only is it special but it’s sacred and hallowed because it is the final resting place of many of the Latta’s mothers and fathers, siblings and relatives. This place is Oakey Point Cemetery.
Oakey Point embodies the history of a unique heritage of the earliest community of many African-Americans in Latta, SC. Grave markers throughout the cemetery date back to the late 1800s. However, it is now an overgrown, long-neglected final resting place for our ancestors to the point where it diminishes the history that it represents.
The Dillon County History and Geneology website published by a survey contributed in the early 2000’s which inventoried cemeteries in Dillon County. The survey described Oakey Point Cemetery as being badly neglected and not taken care of to the point where it was being used by people to dump trash and old torn up furniture.
The good news is that this is about to change. A group of grassroots community-minded individuals have gotten involved to restore the dignity that Oakey Point deserves. They will do that for all the right reasons. Mainly, it is a community cemetery and many loved ones are laid to rest there; there is a rich history there which contributed to the community and it needs to be preserved; and finally, the success of this clean up and restoration is a direct reflection of the greater Latta community.
The journey has began but change will not occur overnight. It’s current condition resulted from years of neglect. As a matter of fact, similar cemetery restoration efforts throughout the country have taken up to a few years to complete. This is not just a community involvement project. It’s not even a project. It’s a long term commitment. Everyone knows that after the restoration is completed, the cemetery has to be maintained in a condition of dignity for years to come. It’s the right thing to do because it has been neglected for a number of years. In many cases, this will be an opportunity for people to reconnect with generations past as well as contribute to the community. There is a small group of community volunteers that are committed to seeing this through. They have already taken initial steps towards the much needed dignity restoration of Oakey Point cemetery. Before this effort began, there had been some individual clearing of family burial plots. However, these individual efforts have not contributed to Oakey Point’s overall appearance or safety in any sustainable and positive fashion. There is an impassioned plea to the general public to join this existing small group of community volunteers because your help is needed. They are requesting any assistance from civic groups, such as churches, fraternal orders and fraternities, sororities, scout troops and local schools. Assistance from historical and cultural societies, of course local governing bodies and particularly, those volunteers with experience in cemetery preservation and site maintenance and/or stone resetting is needed as well.
A core group of volunteers have previously met on a couple of occasions within the last month to discuss moving forward with progress. They have discussed undertaking this effort with reverence and respect, exercising care during cleanup and removal of limbs and debris, personal safety and potential funding and partnerships.
The next meeting is scheduled to be held on August 23, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. at Weston Chapel AME Church, located at 428 Richardson Street, Latta. They are hopeful and prayerful that within a short period of time the cemetery will benefit from the care that these volunteers will provide.
By Bernard James