Located in Cowee, or Too Cowee, North Carolina, Pleasant Hill AME Church was started in 1874. Prior to the Civil War, Cowee was home to a significant population of freedmen and women and enslaved people. After the Civil War, Cowee had the most significant population of Black families in this part of Western North Carolina. This church building was built in 1929 and restored in 2009. While the church is no longer active, the cemetery is still used. This church is part of the Cowee Historic District for Macon County, North Carolina.
Located in Camden County, Georgia, Rising Daughter Baptist Church, the cemetery is filled with a mixture of vernacular and commercial headstones. I am uncertain of the age of the church and cemetery, but based on headstones I would the age the congregation to be from the 1910s.
This is one of the Madonna markers, my friend Brian and I located in three different cemeteries. A full post about these markers are located here.
These markers show a repeated motif of the loops. If these marks are called something else, please let me know.
Harold and Thelma Swain were murdered inside the church. Their case remains unsolved after DNA evidence exonerated the man who initially went to jail. There is a new suspect in the case. For more information, their story can be read here.
My friend, Brian Brown, and I planned a photo trip while I was down at St. Simons for the week. As I was looking through Find-a-Grave, I noticed these vernacular figures repeated in a couple cemeteries. We decided to take a look. After seeing a couple, we realized they were likely a Mary/Madonna figure. The elements have worn off many of the details.
Since these were all in cemeteries of Black churches, it is possible that a local funeral home did them, or that it was a local artist. This is the first time I’ve personally seen a connection in monuments like these in several cemeteries. Even though likely cast, I do consider these vernacular in nature.
The Village Cemetery is located on the 258 acre Guale Preserve which is part of the Musgrove Plantation. It is a private cemetery that is only open to the ancestors of the enslaved who are originally buried there. This is one of the most incredible collection of vernacular headstones I have personally had the opportunity to document.
The glasswork and friezes are all done by an incredible artist(s). I tried to do genealogical searches to determine why these markers are here. Sometimes there are clues in the records, but I am unable to determine any.
My appreciation to Brian Brown to showing me this hidden treasure of a cemetery.
This is one of the most impressive vernacular markers I’ve ever documented. If you’re familiar with the Nettles Death Masks in Alabama, I consider this marker as important as those masks. Down a sandy road, this small rural cemetery in Sandy Bottom is likely not threatened by development but by time and location. The ledger stone is cracked and the marker is leaning forward.
I was unable to find a great deal about Bessie and her family. She was married to a man who was 20 years older than she was. Her parents were John and Amelia “Mealie” McKnight and her husband was Lonnie Jones. On her birth certificate, it was revealed she died due to malaria.
I can’t find anything on this cemetery. It’s still active despite being in a very remote area of Ben Hill County.
When I visit cemeteries, it’s rare that I will see a mixture of vernacular and stately headstones. Groveland Cemetery is one of those rare combinations.
I visited the cemetery in Savannah for the first time in 2014. It’s a historic African American cemetery that has faced hardship due to poor management. While the lack of care for the cemetery is problematic, the vernacular headstones remind us how much these people were loved.
As of 2021, the owner of the cemetery has passed away, and families are still struggling to get the cemetery cleaned.