Mercer education partnership digs into history of abandoned cemetery in Johns Creek

Northview High School Students Interview with Dr. Kenja McCray, Associate Professor of History, Metropolitan State College, Atlanta College of Technology, Georgia, at the cemetery of the African Methodist Church in Macedonia on September 11, 2021. Photo: Dr. Catherine Perotta

The graves in the cemetery of the African Methodist Church in Macedonia span several centuries, but little is known about the people buried there.

The small African-American cemetery, located near one of the busiest intersections in Jones Creek, houses more than 100 graves, including graves of enslaved people and descendants of first- and second-generation people enslaved on local farms. The earliest marked tomb dates back to 1893.

In recent years, community groups and local authorities have taken steps to preserve and beautify cemeteries. But a lot of work remains.

To emphasize the importance of preserving cemeteries, teenagers under the Johns Creek Student Leadership program in partnership with Tift University of Mercer and the Johns Creek Historical Society made four short documentaries about the grave.

The films cover topics including the historical context of enslavement and racial discrimination; the heritage of the Cherokee nation and how it intersects with the black inhabitants buried in the cemetery of Macedonia; the life and family of April Waters, a former enslaved resident buried there; and cemetery conservation efforts.

Dr. Catherine Perrot

Since Jones Creek is a new city – it was registered in 2006 – many people believe it has no history. But that’s not true, said Dr. Catherine Perot, an associate professor of middle school and secondary education at Mercer and director of a project called “They Were Here: Preserving and Honoring the Cemetery of the African Methodist Church in Macedonia at Jones Creek”.

“Awareness of Macedonia’s cemetery and other aspects of Jones Creek history has taught students and adults … that there really was history – and not just history, but diverse history,” she said.

The project was made possible by a $ 2,500 grant for the humanities of Georgia. Twenty-six students from four high schools in northern Fulton County – Centennial, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek and Northview – began work on the project in August. They interviewed experts and community members, conducted research, filmed videos, wrote scripts, recorded voice acting and produced each film.

“It was really important for them to be involved in this process because we had to make sure that the story they wrote and distributed was accurate,” said Dr. Perrot, who wrote the curriculum for the students. “It was important for them to be able to understand the context in which those buried there lived. They fought. Many of them were formerly enslaved people. Some of them were descendants of enslaved people.

“That’s why it was very important for me and for everyone on the team to be able to tell a story with historical accuracy and compassion.”

The students premiered their work on January 27 at a film screening at Jones Creek High School. Among those present were local government officials, school principals, community members and U.S. Representative Lucy Macbeth, representing the sixth constituency in the Georgian Congress.

“It brought the community together in a way that perhaps other activities couldn’t help but,” said Dr. Thomas Coballa Jr., dean of the College of Education, who was also present at the show. “This event linked the present and the history of Jones Creek, and it highlighted how preserving these cemeteries and understanding their history can encourage the community to highlight other historical properties in Jones Creek that should be preserved.”

The second screening is scheduled for 5-19pm on Feb. 18 in the auditorium on the second floor of the Atlanta Administrative Convention Center on campus for Mercer’s Cecil B. Day graduate and professional students.

Purvi Ayer, a junior at Northview High School, was among the teens in Jones Creek’s student leadership. She said she knew little about Macedonia’s cemetery before the project began, but quickly learned how important it is to people in the Jones Creek community.

Dozens of people pose for a group photo on stage
Project participants and dignitaries at the screening on January 27, 2022 at Jones Creek High School. Photo: Dr. Catherine Perrot

“I think this preservation is very important, because we not only need to learn a lot and follow these individual stories, but we don’t know what they did,” she said. “History as a whole is built from the perspective of past generations.”

She said she enjoyed researching the history of Macedonia’s cemeteries, finding details and connecting the dots. She hopes the films will have a positive impact on the future of cemeteries in terms of enacting new legislation to protect them and promoting greater public understanding of their importance.

“It’s such an important and important part of Jones Creek,” she said.

Sign for the cemetery of the African Methodist Church of Macedonia. Photo: Dr. Catherine Perrot

The project gave students a better understanding of the story and brought it to life, said Irene Sanders, executive director of student leadership at Johns Creek. Dr. Perrott treated high school students like college students, teaching them that they could handle that level of work, she said.

At a recent Rotary Club meeting, students shared how much they have learned from the project.

“They said they learned so much about how to do research, and that they truly respected the work of genealogy and understanding of your family,” Sanders said. “It was a really positive experience.”

One that is likely to stay with students for a lifetime.

“History, unfortunately, is so often taught as a list of facts that students read from textbooks. But making documentaries has revived history for students, ”Dr. Coballa said. “I would bet that if you talk to students in 10 years, they will remember the story they learned while making these films.

“And from an educator’s point of view, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”

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