HARTSVILLE, SC (WMBF) - The Hartsville African American Cemetery Committee held a historical marker dedication ceremony for the Marion Avenue Cemetery Monday morning.
Dozens of people, including South Carolina Speaker of the House, Jay Lucas, and Representative Robert Williams gathered at the historical African American cemetery for the big reveal.
During the ceremony members of the committee and people whose families were buried in the cemetery spoke about its progress.
Following the ceremony people marched to the Jerusalem Baptist Church on sixth street for the annual MLK celebration hosted by People to People of Hartsville.
Tre Gammage, the committee’s chairman, said they chose to do the reveal on MLK day as way to celebrate not only national African American history, but local history too.
"To know that 450 people were buried right here in a plot that was forgotten about and to be able to bring that back to the forefront of our community and recognize that it a blessing to be able to reach your hand back into that legacy and know that those people are a part of me and the community," Gammage said.
Once hidden behind trees, the cemetery has since been cleared and covered with fresh mulch. Through old newspapers and obituaries committee members discovered hundreds of African Americans buried there, including the first black doctor in Hartsville and the founder of Butler High School.
Adlena Graham, a former city councilwoman, said that’s why she started the effort more than 20 years ago.
"It's a lot of history out there and nobody paid attention to the cemetery," Graham said.
“People that did so much work for the city and for this country haven’t really been recognized very much so to recognized the people that have been gone and not forgotten is very important to me,” Gammage said.
But the work doesn't just stop here. Graham and Gammage said there's still a lot more to be done to restore the cemetery and eventually the entire Butler Heritage District.
"With pocket parks, with the cemetery and kind of have different spots and pillars of our community of significance that people can be proud of," Gammage said.
Gammage said they’re also looking for more volunteers. The committee comes out for upkeep every second Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.