RINCON — Annually since 2016, Leroy Lloyd, a former president of the Effingham County Branch NAACP, has led a public wreath-laying ceremony at the Old African-American Cemetery located just outside the Jerusalem Lutheran Cemetery near the New Ebenezer Retreat Center.
This year's event, abbreviated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the cemetery at 2887 Ebenezer Road. There will be no readings or music and attendees must wear facial coverings and practice social distancing.
Chairs will not be provided.
Lloyd recounted that more than 600 freed African-American slaves followed Union soldiers across Ebenezer Creek to seek freedom in 1865. Confederate soldiers were following them in pursuit.
A temporary pontoon bridge had been constructed by Union soldiers to allow them to cross Ebenezer Creek. As the freed slaves crossed the bridge, someone cut it, sending more than 100 African-Americans into the creek to their deaths.
The 500 or so left behind were taken back into slavery by the Confederates.
Lloyd began researching this tragedy in 2009 and learned that the 100 victims could have been buried among the “250 nameless and faceless women, children and men whose graves are on the perimeters of the Jerusalem Lutheran Cemetery.”
Lloyd asked the pastor of the church at the time to allow him to explore the grounds and to work on the site. Lloyd acknowledged the cooperation of church members and added that they had looked after the grounds. He noted that there was a plaque on the site that reads: SACRED TO THE AFRICAN-AMERICANS WHOSE REMAINS REST IN THIS PLACE. There are no individual tombstones, however.
Lloyd felt compelled to work on this project, saying he “was being called on by his ancestors to work on this cemetery.”
As such, he took it on as a mission. He sought the full support of the Effingham County Branch NAACP and he appreciates the backing of his immediate successor as president, Edies Cope, and current President Rev. Delmons White and the members.
An avid gardener and photographer, Lloyd also sought the support of the Master Gardeners of Effingham County, of which he is a member. Members of that group have accomplished much on the site.
Lloyd's goal is “to create a more fitting and attractive site for the African-American Cemetery with a park-like setting, benches and a monument in the center.”
In order to make this goal a reality, Lloyd established a fund. Donations to the fund can be directed to The Old African-American Cemetery Clean-Up Fund, 709 Honey Ridge Road, Guyton, Ga. 31312.