CLINTON -- Lucille Simmons walked through a cemetery off Randolph Street early Thursday, pointing out the lineage of several Jones County families.
“That is Jim Solomon’s grave,” she said, standing beside an unmarked grave with the slab fallen in. “He died a long, long time ago.”
A few steps later she stopped at another grave.
“She was married to Herman Pitts. He lived down off of Lite-N-Tie. That’s his wife and son right there. ... This is his mother- and father-in-law.”
And then another.
“I forgot he was buried in here,” she said, standing in front of the grave of a World War II serviceman. “I remember Wallace Black. He’s related to Emma Blow. I think that’s her uncle.”
The cemetery has come to the forefront of Jones County politics in recent weeks. This week, county commissioners rescinded a June decision to authorize a quit-claim deed for the cemetery to an Atlanta-based organization, M.H. Mitchell Inc.
Dozens of Jones County residents pushed for commissioners to rescind their June vote because the Mitchell group, a nonprofit that aims to preserve Southern historical sites, wanted to ban future burials there.
It was that point that struck a nerve with many who showed up at Tuesday’s meeting.
“It wouldn’t have been a problem with me if he just wanted to come in and clean it up, but not block us out. That was my problem,” Simmons said.
Before the commission rescinded the vote, Commissioner Bert Liston said, “Information has come before us now that, unfortunately, we didn’t have last time, and maybe we acted hastily, I don’t know. But at the time, we didn’t know what we know now.”
Simmons, 74, has lived in Jones County her entire life.
“A lot of these people growed up in Clinton,” she said of the families buried there.
Hundreds of graves -- many unmarked -- span from the early 1800s to as recent as 2004.
Simmons said she wants to be buried in the cemetery between her husband and son, farther back in the cemetery than a well-kept plot where her parents and brothers are buried.
Donald Card, 70, has cleared and maintained his family’s plot for nearly 50 years. He cares for the area once a month.
Those two plots, at the entrance to the cemetery, are maintained by family members, but venture farther into the property and the scene is a bit different.
Much of the cemetery is “in just terrible shambles, a mess,” Jones County Commissioner Larry Childs said Tuesday.
Commission Chairman Preston Hawkins called it an “eyesore.”
“A lot of people don’t even know a cemetery’s there,” he said last month.
David Mitchell, of M.H. Mitchell Inc., addressed commissioners in June, explaining his plans to restore the cemetery.
County officials couldn’t find a record of who owned the property, so they opted for a quit-claim deed, County Attorney Frank Childs said.
The cemetery is known by several names -- Clinton Cemetery, Old Clinton Cemetery or Ross Cemetery.
Jones County bought the tract of land in 1810, he said, but there is “no record as far as anyone’s knowledge of the county doing anything over on that property within 100 years.”
By processing a quit claim deed, the county was not necessarily giving Mitchell ownership of the property, but relinquishing any interest the county may have held in the property.
“I don’t think it can be proved who owns the land,” the attorney said. “There’s been no taxes paid on it for as long as anyone knows.”
Mitchell, who also has family buried in the cemetery, said he had “grand plans” for the property, which he called a “real bizarre and unique collection of history in desperate need of preservation,” in order to ensure that it exists for another 200 years.
Plans for organizing a cleanup group were already being made Tuesday.
“If we can get the churches to pull together, we can do the restoring of these graves ourselves,” said Tony Blow, who has family buried in the cemetery.
“Let’s restore these graves and bring them back to where they will represent our love for our family.”
Louie Lashley, who attended the June meeting and helped organize Tuesday’s showing by contacting the families of those buried in the cemetery, has scheduled a meeting this month to organize a cleanup effort.
They hope to start in August by clearing undergrowth, he said.
Hawkins said “one good thing” came out of the situation.
“It’s going to get people’s attention,” he said.
Mitchell had few words at Tuesday’s meeting.
“It was never my intention to cause this heartache,” he said.
“I’m very sorry to each and every one of you. I hope that you carry through with your desire. I hope that you fulfill what you’re saying. I look forward to seeing what you do.”
To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 744-4347.