After an emotional visit on Thursday to a slave cemetery on the site of a proposed Manson solar farm, descendants of both the plantation owners and the slaves buried there pledged to work together to preserve the site.
Property owners Sandy and Patrick Brady, descendants of the Bullock family who once owned the plantation, and family members of former slave Sally Bullock left the cemetery with the hope that the cemetery would honor the lives of those buried there while serving to unite local citizens of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The visit came after the Warren County Board of Adjustment earlier this month voted to table a decision for 30 days on granting a conditional use permit for the solar farm due to questions about whether the slave cemetery had been desecrated.
At the meeting, S. Brady pointed out the location of the cemetery on a map, saying that it was in a cutover with existing oak trees and had never been disturbed.
Warren County NAACP President Dr. Cosmos George spoke at the meeting on behalf of descendants of Sally Bullock, who filed a complaint with the local chapter regarding desecration of the slave cemetery. George said that the descendants did not want to prevent development of the solar farm, but wanted their ancestors’ final resting place preserved.
On Thursday, more than 20 people gathered at Buchanan’s Store near the cemetery before traveling to the site. Among them were the Bradys, George, descendants of Sally Bullock, Warren County Planning and Zoning Administrator Ken Krulik, and representatives of the State Historic Preservation Office, Office of State Archaeology and Cooperative Solar.
S. Brady led a period of introductions and prayer before the group traveled to the cemetery site. He said that, during a visit to the site the weekend before, he located 67 graves in what appeared to be three rows of stones.
“We’re here to learn about Sally Bullock,” he said, adding that timber around the cemetery had been cut, but the cemetery had not been touched.
To arrive at the cemetery, the group traveled down a dirt path through a soybean field and walked across a timbered area. Some graves were marked by large fieldstones, but most were marked by much smaller rocks.
Bullock descendant Sandra Reavis said that she would like to see the cemetery preserved and made into a historic site.
Afton resident Deborah Ferruccio agreed, saying that preserving the site would show the significance of the slaves buried there and to show that even though their names are unknown, that they have value in the 21st century from the lessons the cemetery can teach.
Other Bullock descendants chose to walk quietly around the site as they searched for the stones marking the graves of their ancestors. Several, including June Ellis of Manassas, Va., spoke with the Brady brothers about preserving the site.
S. Brady later said that he would like to do what is right to preserve the cemetery, the only one he and his brother have located at the former plantation site.
While many of the discussions were personal and private, the group reassembled to meet together for a traditional libations ceremony honoring the Bullock family members buried at the cemetery and to join hands in prayer before leaving the site.
George challenged those present to remember the slaves buried there as the people responsible for the plantation’s success.
Ellis expressed hope that the bond of friendship formed and reconciliation between the descendants of both Bullock families with ties to the plantation would serve as a lesson for others.
“All links are here. Now they are put together,” she said.
Ellis added that she wants the preserved cemetery to serve as a place where Warren County residents can come to terms with the past and work together to form bonds of unity.
“Let us lead the way as we go forward and work this out,” she said. “Jesus is in charge.”
Descendant Robert Steverson agreed.
“This is an opportunity to start conversations that need to be held all over the country,” he said. “There is one race: the human race.”
Brady said that the two Bullock families will work together to make plans for preserving the cemetery.
“There is opportunity here. We will work it out,” he said. “We are all cousins. I am proud to say that.”
Sally Bullock descendant Wanda Henderson put the experience in perspective.
“So many people don’t know their point of origin,” she said. “We know where we came from. We have been able to walk among our ancestors.”
The Warren County Board of Adjustment will meet Thursday, Aug. 15, at 6 p.m. on tabled action on the conditional use permit application for the solar farm. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at the Warren County Armory Civic Center, 501 US Hwy. 158 business east, Warrenton. No additional public hearings will be held on the matter.