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Group plans memorial for unmarked graves

COVINGTON -- The African-American Historical Association of Newton County is planning memorial services for those buried in recently discovered unmarked graves at City and Westview cemeteries.

The organization's president, Forrest Sawyer Jr., attended Monday night's City Council meeting to thank officials for funding location of the graves and to invite them to attend the ceremonies.

"We're going to have a ceremony memorializing and reconsecrating and giving libations for people buried in the old cemetery," he said.

The tentative date for the events is Saturday, Sept. 3, 11 a.m. at City Cemetery and 2 p.m. at Westview Cemetery. More than 300 unmarked graves have been found by Len Strozier and his son Benjamin of Omega Mapping Services. The duo uses ground penetrating radar to measure air pockets and determine where grave sites are located.

Sawyer said that many of the grave sites are likely those of slaves.

"These had to be special slaves to be buried 10 feet away from folks that didn't look like them -- their masters," he said of those buried at City Cemetery, noting that a cemetery for the black community was located not far away. Sawyer speculated that they were slaves of prominent Covington residents.

City Manager Steve Horton said he recently learned there is potentially a cemetery located on the Turner Lake Recreation Complex site near Brown Bridge Road and asked the council to hire Strozier to confirm that. He said given the history of the area, it could be a burial ground for slaves.

Strozier's cost is up to $1,670 to determine if a burial site is present and then up to $1,762 to perform ground penetrating radar on up to 50 graves.

The council unanimously approved the request, and Sawyer commended them for their efforts.

"A lot of cities wouldn't take on anything like this. They would just let it be dormant, but you all have took it on and found people over there not known to anybody but God," he said.