Published September 08, 2008
Loved ones’ plots lost in weeds
Neglected site makes visiting cemetery difficult
By Keith Purtell
Phoenix Staff Writer
Residents say a mostly African-American cemetery in Muskogee is badly in need of cleanup.
The cemetery, on Euclid Street north of Shawnee Bypass, has become heavily overgrown with brush and weeds.
Franklin Skates, 43, who lives nearby, said he became aware of the cemetery three years ago.
“I first noticed it when I came back from the Gulf War in 2005,” he said. “There are probably about 1,000 grave sites out there. There are a lot of African-Americans buried back there. On Memorial Day I could see the people drive down there, mostly African-American, but just throw their flowers at the front gate.”
Skates said the visitors weren’t leaving their memorial offerings at the entrance because they didn’t care, but because they couldn’t enter to find their relatives’ headstones.
“They can’t get inside to put their flowers on the graves,” he said. “It’s not locked up, but because of the trees and overgrowth, you can’t get in there. But there’s no one taking care of the cemetery.”
Skates showed several headstones hidden under branches and tall weeds. He carefully wiped dead leaves from an engraved stone surface bearing the name McShann. Another nearby headstone bore the same family name.
Skates said he has made several telephone calls trying to find out who is responsible for the cemetery.
“I called the city, and they said they think it’s county property,” he said. “My personal concern is that a lot of peoples’ ancestors are buried there. It’s a matter of respect.”
Clarence Carter, 56, said he grew up near the cemetery and has family buried there.
“My sister Patricia Ann is buried here,” he said. “So is my grandfather; Willie Carter. I used to play here when I was a little boy. My grandmother, Annie Clayton Brown, lived up there on the road. It was well taken care of back then.”
Carter said he knows the cemetery as Lowe’s Graveyard. It’s directly north of a power substation located where the paving ends on Euclid Street. Large electrical lines loom over the area.
“There used to be a road that went in back there and circled around and came out between the second and third electrical poles there,” he said. “There weren’t all these trees back then. There was one big tree near the entrance, and all along the road there were cedars. I’ve been in Colorado for 20-something years, and when I came back I couldn’t believe it.”
Carter said the local Ragsdale family has ancestors buried in the overgrown area.
Ted Ragsdale, funeral director in charge at Ragsdale Funeral Center, confirmed that he has at least one relative interred at the cemetery.
“My grandfather is buried back there,” he said. “It was once easier to get into. So far as I know there are no Caucasians buried there; it is African-Americans and some Indians. I can well imagine it can be well improved.”
Carmen Williams, daughter of the late Carolyn Embry Wade, said her mother owned the cemetery.
“I know it as Hardin Cemetery,” she said. “It belonged to my mom, but the ownership is in probate right now. Technically it’s still in her name.”
Williams said she thinks cleanup of the cemetery is likely, but couldn’t guarantee anything because final ownership is yet to be decided in court.
“We were keeping it up at one time,” she said. “It really shouldn’t be a problem. We’re in the process of getting people to clean up different parcels anyway. It’s on the list. I know my mother and I were discussing it at one time because someone was wanting to purchase it. The last time I know my mom had really done anything out there was when we went out there on a Memorial Day about four years ago
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