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Southern Campus ceremony dedicates grave markers to rediscovered African-American cemetery

ATHENS, Ohio (Aug. 18, 2006) -- Ohio University Southern Campus hosted a dedication ceremony yesterday for 12 granite grave markers and a granite cemetery marker that will be placed at a recently rediscovered African American cemetery in Lawrence County, Ohio. The cemetery has officially been named Sacred Hills. 

Southern Campus hosts unveiling of African-American cemetery.Ohio University students, under the direction of Southern Campus Associate Professor of Communication Studies David Lucas, discovered the cemetery while working on a research project called Porter Gap Road: A Microcosm of Appalachia. The cemetery was created for victims of the Spanish flu in 1917 and 1918.

Ohio University Southern Campus Dean Dan Evans opened the ceremony by saying he was proud of the research that is being done on the campus. "Dr. (Roderick) McDavis said he wanted Ohio University to become more prominent in the area of research. Regional campuses can be prominent by providing exemplary service to our community and that is what the cemetery project is doing." 

Lucas praised his students for helping him with the project and recognized former student Nedra Kearns as the one who brought the idea of a lost African-American cemetery back to the research group. 

"Once the owner of the property gave us permission to search for the cemetery, we were determined to find it," Kearns said. "From the very first time I went to the area where the cemetery is located, I could feel that something was there." 

Lucas, who received a research challenge grant from Ohio University to fund the Porter Gap research project, announced some breaking news at the event. "I was just informed by Greg Klaiber of the Buckeye Monument Company that his company has decided to donate the cost of the cemetery stones to the university. I can't tell you how excited I am about that."

Southern Campus hosts unveiling of African-American cemetery.The cemetery markers and the cost of the labor to install them are valued at more than $1,200. 

"I just felt like it was a nice touch to donate them," Klaiber said. "Now David has money to put a fence around the cemetery so that the grave markers aren't damaged by animals and other things." 

Of the 12 granite markers that were custom made for each of the graves, only one has a name on it. It has the name "Mary Lou Mills" etched on it. She was a 7-year-old girl who was identified by a stone marker that was placed on the grave near the time of burial. The original stone was removed to be cleaned up and will be placed back on the gravesite along with the new granite version. The other 11 graves have the words "adult grave" etched on them.

"I believe this cemetery is going to become a well-known place in the Ironton area," Lucas said. "I believe it will eventually become a spiritual place where people come to remember their loved ones. One of the greatest things about this cemetery project is that it recognizes the contributions that African Americans have made to the Ironton area."

Lucas says the next step in the project should happen this fall when an Ohio Historical Site marker that recognizes Sacred Hills is placed on Route 650 near Ironton. 

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Media Contact: Media Specialist George Mauzy, (740) 597-1794 or mauzy@ohio.edu, or Associate Professor David Lucas, (740) 533-4577 or lucasd@ohio.edu

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