The Iredell County Public Library featured a special program on “The Black Community in Iredell County” on March 3, 2010 at the headquarters library in Statesville. The program featured Iredell County native, Phyllis Bailey who provided an historical overview of black communities, schools, churches, and health care. Ms. Bailey is a retired teacher of mathematics at Mitchell Community College and a long-time member of the Iredell County Genealogical Society. The free program featured photographs from the black community along with guest speakers sharing some of their memories from growing up in Iredell County.
I ran across an article in the Statesville Daily the other day from December 6, 1939. It had been written by a young history buff named William Powell. The information had been submitted in the form of a letter to the editor. It had been reprinted as an article titled, “Community Slave Burying Ground.” In the article Powell described being led by an elderly black man to an area in the woods near the Old White’s Mill. Here, he had been told, was an old slave burying ground that had been used by the White, Barkley, and other families in the area as a cemetery for their black slaves. The area was about a half acre in size and covered with perry winkle. The graveyard was described as having flat field stones with only one that was still legible reading, “Mary K. –1856, and James W. –Sept. 1854.”
Powell pointed out that finding a community type black graveyard was unusual since a lot of families buried their slaves in a corner of their family burying ground or else in a private burying ground set aside especially for their slaves. William S. Powell graduated from Statesville High School on May 12, 1936 and is now known nationwide as North Carolina’s unofficial state historian. Though retired now as a history professor he is still with the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill and continues with his historical research and writings. An updated edition of Powell’s, “North Carolina Gazetteer: A Dictionary of Tar Heel Places and Their History, 2nd Ed,” has just been released by the UNC-Press. This book along with his recent, “Encyclopedia of North Carolina” are standard in libraries across N.C. Powell recently donated his high school diploma to the library’s Local History department where it is now on display.
Researching black history is often challenging due to the lack of records prior to 1865 and the end of slavery. Cemetery records are one of the best sources for family history research. Iredell County is in desperate need of someone to do an inventory of the graves in the black cemeteries. Almost all the white cemeteries have been researched, indexed, and put into book form, but there are no published books listing the graves in the black cemeteries. The Iredell County Genealogical Society would probably be happy to publish such a collection in book form if someone would undertake such a project. Every year that passes is another year in which many of these cemeteries may be lost and their graves sites become unreadable. Those wishing to take part in such a project should come to the meeting or contact the Iredell County Genealogical Society at 704-878-5384. The Society office is located in the old EMS building at 400 South Meeting St. near downtown Statesville and is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Gravesites offer missing pieces of black history” on March 3, 2010