Breena Clarke
PAGE 8
The Dead, as Well as the Living
One of the things that I wanted to accomplish was to include the dead in the story as well as the living.

Now, I didn't want to make a ghost story, although ghost stories are very effective. But I did want to feel that those who had died were included in the story as well as those who were continuing to live. And Clara Bynum, Johnnie Mae's younger sister, of course, has died and is buried at Mount Zion.

So I was thinking of trying to think of a way to include the dead in the story. And I thought of including sort of Halloween thing and then they're running around in the cemetery.

And I must say, I'm not sure that that has any basis in historical fact. I don't know that people ever did that. But it seemed like, you know, a likely thing. I know that Halloween was celebrated in Georgetown and that people, even adults, did dress up for Halloween. So I just decided to invent that.

One of the things I wanted to accomplish was not just to preserve those dead individuals but the whole community. Until you have some loved one who's buried in a cemetery people don't as a rule visit — but there's a lot of interesting historical information in cemeteries. People's names and dates are there and you can get a sense of who they were and how they lived from looking at a cemetery.

Cemeteries have a sense of permanence that a lot of other buildings don't have. I mean, you got to go a ways before you can destroy a cemetery.

Now, Mount Zion Cemetery actually came very close to being bulldozed and a development built on top of it. The cemetery had fallen into disrepair. They had stopped burials. They haven't buried anyone there since the 1950s. And it did fall into disrepair because the church did not have adequate funds to maintain it. So the city was going to allow development on top of it.

But the church was able to convince the city government not to do that. I think the African American Bicentennial Corporation, which was formed in 1976, became instrumental in getting the cemetery declared on a National Register of Historic Places. This, of course, brought in federal funds to do some renovation and at least restoration work and preservation work in that area which I think is very important. Many of the gravestones go back a good ways there.

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