Arkansas State University Group Traces Graves at Cemeteries
Descendants of Black sharecroppers in Poinsett County are attempting to get two cemeteries listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Dr. Julie Morrow, archaeologist at the Arkansas State University-Jonesboro station of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, and eight of her archaeology and geology students traced grave sites at the Tulot Cemetery, located southwest of Trumann. They will conduct similar research at the Judd Hill Cemetery.
“We’re just recording the headstones and also the depressions in the ground that might represent burials,” Morrow said.
The oldest headstone dated to 1895. The researchers found about 80 marked or unmarked graves. The students placed small flags at headstones and depressions that appeared to be gravesites.
Deric Wyatt of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department will use satellite technology to prepare a map of the graves.
Mattie Wortham, a member of Judd Hill Memorial Scholarship, Inc., a group of descendants of sharecroppers, said the group has been working for the past few years to restore the two Black cemeteries in Poinsett County, Tulot and Judd Hill. She said the Tulot Cemetery was nearly obscured by vegetation, and headstones had suffered from many years of vandalism. She said the work has been valuable. “The students are really eager and glad to be out here and that really helps me,” Wortham said.
Andrea Brewer, one of the students, said she found it fascinating to hear Wortham recount the life stories associated with many of the graves.
Established in 1995, the group awards scholarships to Black students at Trumann High School. Wortham said interest in the cemeteries grew out of reunions the group has sponsored for former residents of the Tulot and Judd Hill plantations. The first reunion in 2000 attracted more than 400 people who had roots in the plantations.
“We’ve had them come from Canada. We’ve had them come from all parts of the world, different states,” Wortham said. “We’ve had doctors come back, we had nurses, lawyers, pro football players, all walks of life. And they come from a plantation where we went to a one-room school, you know, and went off and made well for themselves.”
Many of the descendants want to be buried with their family members in the two cemeteries, she said. As many as 900 Blacks lived at the two plantations in the 1920s, Wortham said.
During the first reunion in 2000, Wortham said her organization was able to put together an oral history of the plantations. Arkansas State produced a documentary at the 2002 reunion, she said.
“The cemetery is one of the last projects that we had to complete,” Wortham said. “As far as telling the whole sharecropper story in this area.”
— Associated Press
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