Historians say South Georgia cemeteries must be protected
February 24, 2006
Lee County -- A follow up to a story we brought you earlier this week about a criminal investigation into a cemetery being plowed under by a Dougherty County plantation's workers. South Georgia historians say this is a crime that happens too often, destroying our heritage.
"This is just a good illustration of somebody respecting a cemetery." Woody Brooks, a local historian, checks out a long forgotten cemetery in rural Lee County. Forgotten, by everyone it seems, except the landowner, who protects it. Brooks said "The family is probably not alive, and the current owner of the property is looking after it too."
Brooks was upset when he saw our story this week about a west Dougherty County plantation manager admitting to Sheriff's Investigators he had plowed under headstones on a cemetery adjacent to plantation property.
He wants landowners to know they do not own a cemetery. Brooks said "It owns itself, and you have no rights whatsoever to touch it, period. That's what the law says."
Georgia law protects cemeteries as sacred sites, no matter how old, abandoned, or where they are located. Brooks said "It actually belongs to the people buried there. If a large landowner were to have one in the middle of his place, he can't stop the people from coming to visit the people who are buried there either."
This cemetery has turn of the century headstones, which Brooks says are important as legal records. Brooks said "That is recorded history. Death certificates did not come in until 1919, and you need to go find out where somebody was born and raised, that's the record of their history right there."
Brooks is pleased this landowner is keeping this cemetery sacred. And is a good example for all Georgia landowners, because the people buried there deserve it. Woody Brooks said "That's history. That's people's family. If somebody tore it up, they should not have."
Brooks said people call him all the time, leading him to forgotten cemeteries in South Georgia. Brooks said "There are more than you can imagine."
That's why Brooks says it is important for law enforcement to enforce the law protecting cemeteries, when the landowner does not, to preserve our forefathers resting place.
Georgia law says maliciously disturbing a cemetery is a felony, punishable by jail time and fine.
No one has been charged in the West Dougherty Cemetery case, as an investigation continues.