Slave's stories: Legacies live on at cemetery known as 'Campground'

Published on Thursday, 19 June 2014 11:49 - Written by BY CORRETTA WILLIAMS, KYTX CBS 19

CONCORD — Today marks the 149th anniversary of the nationally celebrated holiday commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.

"Juneteenth" is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On this date, back in 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston with news that the war had ended and that slaves were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863.

The event was made a Texas state holiday beginning in 1980.

 

As generations look back, our ancestors gave their tomorrows for our todays.

A perfect example of generations living on can be found in a small community in southern Rusk County called Concord.

It’s on the backside of the town Mount Enterprise. In that community is a cemetery called “Campground.”

When most people think of cemeteries, they get a little creeped out or see it as a final resting place for loved ones.

That may be so, true enough, but legacies here are living on.

Campground Cemetery was organized back in 1857 by the Mount Zion Baptist Association. The organization is composed of 13 area Baptist churches.

The cemetery’s name is derived from the use of the Moun Zion Baptist Church sanctuary and grounds as a campsite by Confederate General John A. Wharton’s Cavalry troop from 1864-1865.

The first recorded burial is that of Guss Christopher in 1910, but a number of unmarked grave sites suggest earlier burials. The cemetery contains about 140 burial sites and continues to serve as a graveyard for the surrounding rural community.

For some time, there were visible signs of these Confederate soldier gravesites, but the markers have since eroded away. An historical marker was placed at this site in spring 1995.

Then-Texas Rep. Paul Sadler was there for the dedication as well as members from the Mount Zion Baptist Church Association.

This is one of the few African-American cemeteries across that state that’s able to bear this honor.

“It’s ironic that (Campground Cemetery) used to be a place for a military campground. This is a great way to pass along history,” Barbara Smith-Vallier said.

Ms. Vallier’s grandfather (the late Odester Nickerson) was instrumental in getting a historical marker placed here.

“Many veterans are buried here. It means there are people willing to fight for our country and our freedoms,” Ms. Vallier said.

Each Memorial Day, people near and far gather here for a fundraiser event. This is to raise money for cemetery upkeep. This event started back in 1980. At that time, only about a half dozen people showed up to help clean the cemetery.

Brenda Williams, a native of Mount Enterprise and daughter of the now-deceased Corine Caddell, was there for the first fundraising event.

“Grass burs were so thick, that I hated to go to the cemetery for anything,” Ms. Williams said. “They would stick through your dress, hosiery, just about anything. But now it’s so smooth and beautiful here.”

Ms. Williams said she is not ashamed for anyone to come visit the cemetery.

Current committee president, Frank Nickerson (son of the late Odester Nickerson) has been part of the Concord Community for 75 years.

“I see this as a time to get together and to take care of the cemetery. On this date, we raise money for the upkeep of the cemetery,” Nickerson said of the Memorial Day event. “This cemetery used to be run-down. People were embarrassed to bring loved ones here to be buried. Since we started the upkeep, it’s really nice.”

Because it is a nonprofit organization, the group is encouraging people in the community to participate. All money raised for the cemetery is on a donation basis. There is no set fee.

The cemetery receives donations pretty much from all across the country, from Texas to California.

Lanetor Kellum has served as the organization’s secretary since 2005, taking over the position after her mother, Corine Caddell, passed away.

“This is a community event,” Kellum said. “It’s very important to bring the community together. It helps people learn about their ancestors.

Julia Fay Anderson, also a Mount Enterprise native, sung the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the Memorial Day event.

The song talks about “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” It goes on to mention, “His truth is marching on.”

For this community, their ancestors are gone, but their legacy remains — something the founding members hope the younger generation will pass on.

One visitor said, “If it wasn’t for the soldiers, the warriors — the ones that are gone on before us, we couldn’t do what we do today. From beginning to the end we are thankful for what they did.”

 

Coretta Williams is the morning show producer at KYTX CBS19