ABOUT THE POPLAR SPRINGS missionary BAPTIST CHURCH CEMETERY PROJECT
The original Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery’s land was donated to the church by Elizabeth “Lizzie” Turner. Lizzie was a former enslaved person whose parents, Rit and Grit Clark, were enslaved and brought to North Carolina, USA. Lizzie was enslaved on the Turner plantation, those of whom are also buried at the original cemetery. After Lizzie was freed, Mary “Polly” Turner deeded her father, Jasper Melchor Turner’s, land to Lizzie. The deed was under Henry Turner, Lizzie’s husband. Lizzie then donated the land to the Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church. The land was used to build the church, originally a log cabin, and the original cemetery. The land was then willed to Lizzie and Henry’s daughter Polly Turner Burns. They required that Polly or her progeny never sell the land, which ensured that the Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church and cemetery could stay.
This website is the product of a project started by Mrs. Carol Smith. Smith attends the Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church, as did many of her past ancestors. There are two cemeteries connected with the Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church. The original cemetery dates back to 1876 with the deed of land and creation of the church itself. The newer cemetery sits right beside the Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church which is owned by John P. Harris. The newer cemetery started burials in the 1950’s, but the original cemetery was the burial spot for many black residents of the local Burnsville community, as well as nearby towns and counties. Smith decided to start this project after noticing how overgrown the original cemetery had become. Many of the graves were hidden under overgrowth, and others were nowhere to be found. Also, many of the graves were eroded or destroyed due to natural weathering.
Smith wanted to revitalize the cemetery through cleaning it, as well as detailing the history behind it. Her first goal was to get help to clear out the overgrowth so that many graves could be identified. This was done through the help of a company run by Nick Gaddy. JD Bricken, Anson County's Commissioner for District 1 has been vital in helping with the land regulations. The clearing of the overgrowth has been handled by Smith and other volunteers including Bricken, Allen Jackson and Alton Jackson, as well as many others.
Victoria Matlock and Margaret Price were the leaders in research of the graves. Before cleaning even began, Matlock and Price went through the cemetery to discover graves and start their research. They took pictures of the graves they found. They then used editing software to help brighten engravings that had been eroded over time. They also used the aid of flour to rub on engravings in order to help determine what was etched on the graves. From this, as well as through records and oral interviews, they were able to determine over 170 people buried in the graves. They then did research into those discovered and used the aid of death certificates, marriage certificates, newspaper articles, and oral stories. They also were able to get the cemetery certified by the government, meaning that it can not be destroyed or bought as it is now a registered cemetery with the state.
After Matlock and Price’s work, I was called in through my school, Wingate University, to help aid in a project to demonstrate all the work that had been done, as well as catalogue the important historical value this project has and will continue to have. I am currently a Sophomore History major at Wingate University with a passion for public history. I was called on by Dr. David Mitchell, the associate professor of American History at Wingate. I was asked to find a way to record the history of the cemetery, as well as those buried, so that the history could live on. My first instinct was to create an archival-like website that can be constantly referenced. With the help of Mr. Richard Carney the Wingate Public History Professor and archivist, I was able to start my website creation. This website details the basic information of over 170 people buried in the cemetery. Primary sources including the death certificates, marriage certificates, newspaper articles, and pictures are also catalogued through Flickr. These catalogues can be accessed by clicking on the name of each memorial.*
This website is meant to act as a memorial for all those who are buried in the Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church Original Cemetery, regardless if their grave has been found. The hopes of this website is that current and future generations can find, as well as learn more about their ancestors. Throughout working on this website, I have truly been exposed to the importance of history. Learning more about who and where you came from shapes us all, and this website is meant to be a tool to aid in doing so. I have met many people while working on this project and their excitement and joy has been a source of inspiration for me. The history of everyday people is often overlooked, yet is so critical to the history of our world. I hope this website can be a source for many to reference and learn more about their own family or just a remarkable community whose history has shaped so many.
*Not all memorials have a catalogue due to no documents currently found for them