In the summer of 2018, a historic black cemetery sat hidden behind trees, manifested with weeds that covered up unique headstones.
Influential black city leaders were laid to rest at the historic cemetery including Professor Leroy D. Holman, Mack Skinner, a community and civic leader in Stuttgart and Booker T. Relerford, funeral director and owner of Relerford Funeral Home.
Some headstones were buried so deep in the ground due to the neglect of the cemetery. Loved ones were lost in an untamed wilderness.
Today the headstones of Green Grove-Love Rest Cemetery, located off of Hwy 79 before the Park Avenue bypass, sit in a manicured lawn. Weeds are no longer a nuisance. Headstones are clean and visible.
On June 18, 2018, community leaders, pastors and volunteers met to discuss the cemetery upkeep. A Cemetery Association Committee was formed led by former President Jim Craig and current Vice President Wade Hobbs.
The committee would meet, and still does, the first Monday of each month at Lively Stone Church, to discuss the needs and progression of the cemetery.
A benefit program was held Sunday, September 29, 2019 at Turning Point Ministries in Stuttgart. Secretary and Communications Liaison, N. Crayton Johnson, gave a brief history of the cemetery.
“Booker T. Relerford took it amongst himself to make sure blacks had a place to be buried,” said Johnson. “Whites did not want blacks buried at Lone Tree so Relerford bought land for a new one.”
Headstones as early as 1915 were discovered.
As the cemetery started to fill, a request was made to the City Council to allow blacks to be buried at Lone Tree Cemetery.
According to Johnson, the first black was buried at Lone Tree Cemetery in 1978.
Since the last burial at Green Grove-Love Rest in the early 90s, the upkeep of the cemetery diminished.
Cemetery caretakers, Lou Anna Spears, the late Willie Spears and Andrew Robinson, cared for the cemetery for many years, but as they became older, the labor became too much for them to maintain.
“It’s no longer used for internment but we just can’t abandon it,” said Johnson. “We need to take care of it.”
After the committee was formed last year, community volunteers would gather on Saturday mornings to help with the restoration of the cemetery and though the work was greatly appreciated, vice president Wade Hobbs expressed during the program how the numbers have fallen.
“During the election, we had 12 people,” said Hobbs. “After the election, we had four.”
Wade was also disappointed in the pastoral turnout. According to Hobbs, there are nine black churches in Stuttgart who were invited but only a few attended the program.
“We have asked the churches to give at least $50 a month for four months,” said Hobbs. “We need to step up and take control of what is going on for us.”
Over $1,500 was raised at the benefit program to go towards maintenance, care and headstones.
The Cemetery Association, lead by President Debra Amos Ross, is committed to preserving Green Grove-Love Rest by first establishing ownership and identifying those who are buried there.
The committee is requesting old photographs, obituaries, and any other ties that link to the cemetery.
If you have any information, know of anyone who is buried at the cemetery, or would like to make a monetary donation, contact Wade Hobbs at 870-672-1625.
“We need help from the community,” said Hobbs. “Together we can get it done.”