City residents and leaders gathered on Sixth Avenue today to dedicate a “Resting Garden” on the site of the first cemetery for black Columbus residents, many of them slaves.
The site, which is identified on early city maps as the “Colored Cemetery” was used as such from 1828, the year the city was chartered, to 1836, when Porterdale Cemetery was opened for black residents, according to city records.
The ceremony this morning included speeches by city and religious leaders and songs by the St. James AME Church Male Choir.
The Rev. C. Medley Hayes of Greater Beulah Baptist Church delivered the dedication message, reminding those gathered how far the city has come since 1828.
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“This plot of ground brings people together, not as a master-slave relationship, but as a unified effort among us all,” Hayes said. “This plot of ground is the property and pride of every one of us who call Columbus, Ga., home.”
Hayes said the monument also points to better days in the future.
“I want to say to our leaders that you’ve made a great decision,” Hayes said. “You’ve allowed yourself to rise above yesterday and embrace today and embrace the future that Columbus has.
“You Columbus, Georgia, we Columbus, Georgia are now a great city because yesterday is now buried, but it’s buried with dignity because of the leadership of this great city.”
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson spoke briefly and credited former Mayor Bob Poydashef and current Councilor Mimi Woodson with helping to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling. She said events like the dedication are impossible without teamwork and leadership.
“Great days like this, great celebrations like this, don’t just happen,” Tomlinson said. “They happen because you have a citizenry, you have leaders. You have people who want to make the community better, demand that you make the community better and have the good sense to envision how we can do that.”
Woodson, whose council district includes the park, echoed the sentiment about the social and civil progress that the city has made.
“It is a great honor for me as a representative of this district, to look at it and reflect back where we were and where we’re going,” Woodson said. “It’s a slow process, but we’re going. Our wishes and our prayers are coming true.”
City Manager Isaiah Hugley recounted the history of the property, how it became a cemetery, then became railroad property, then came back to the city to be dedicated to honor its past.
Hugley said while walking the footpath before the ceremony, scripture from Second Chronicles came to him.
“It says, ‘ If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land,’” Hugley said.
Following the ceremony, an historic marker was unveiled and the ribbon was cut before the crowd of about 50 filed into the garden to walk its 1,000 feet of footpath that snakes between mature hardwoods and new landscaping. Along the path, informational markers tell more of the story of the times and the place.