Controversy Over Cemetery Has St. Helena Island Residents Outraged - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

01/29/07

Controversy Over Cemetery Has St. Helena Island Residents Outraged

Imagine going to the cemetery to visit your loved ones' resting place, only to find out they're missing. That's exactly what some people on St. Helena Island are saying happened to them.

It all has to do with a controversy over the boundaries of a plantation-era cemetery, which happens to be located on a St. Helena man's property.

"I can't find my father, my sister," said Rev. Dr. Annie Allen.

They're just a couple of the loved ones laid to rest at the White Plantation Cemetery who Rev. Allen and other St. Helena residents say have disappeared.

"Graves have been either dug up or broken up," said Marquetta Goodwine. "Vaults are missing, there's been headstones missing. There's been desecration going on and we want it to cease. Family members that have been buried in the last ten years are missing and we know they just didn't get out of their vaults and leave."

This whole issue centers around the boundaries of the cemetery. While the dispute has been going on for decades, it recently came to a head when the owner of the property, John Clements, cut down trees and spread sand on what many people say are gravesites.

Many of these graves were traditionally marked with trees instead of headstones.

"Some of them had palmetto trees on them for a marker," said Rev. Allen. "Now we can't find the markers to identify whose grave it was."

While many St. Helena residents say Clements was aware this area was part of the cemetery, he tells WTOC he didn't know about it until six weeks ago.

"Up until that point, the documentation I've had, the conversations I've had with the community indicated this fenced-in area behind me is the cemetery," said Clements.

But Marquetta Goodwine and others on the island say they won't stop their fight until this sacred burial ground is put back to the way it was.

"We want our ancestors to rest, but not this issue," said Goodwine.

Clements tells us he was planning on building a barn on that area to the left of the cemetery but has put those plans on hold until a professional company he's hired examines the land to see if it is a burial ground.

South Carolina Rep. Catherine Ceips (R-Dist. 124) is getting involved at the state level to see what can be done.

Reported by: Jaime Dailey, jdailey@wtoc.com 

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