by Willie Bolden
Veteran Buffalo Soldier Leon McGee met Donna Hann while attending a conference at the Georgia Archives in July of 2019. Both were hosting tables (McGee’s was for the Buffalo Soldiers Atlanta chapter). Hann, a descendant of the Rueben Gay Family of Fayette County, Georgia had been working on an African American cemetery project. She alerted McGee to the conditions at the African American cemetery in Forest Park. They agreed to meet there the following week. McGee was crestfallen and totally appalled at the condition of the lone, little cemetery off Conley Road, right next door to the beautifully manicured contemporary cemetery. The cemetery comprises three lots abutting each other, Macedonia, Rock Springs, and Oddfellows. He placed approximately 30 U. S. flags on the visible African American veterans’ graves dating from World War I through Vietnam.
McGee spoke with Johnny Miller who serves as President of both the Atlanta Chapter 555th Parachute Infantry Association (PIA) and Cascade United Methodist Church (CUMC) Veteran’s Ministry. McGee invited Donna to speak at the CUMC Veteran’s Ministry meeting the following Thursday. As a twice wounded Purple Heart veteran, Miller knew firsthand the sacrifices veterans buried there had given so we could have the society we now enjoy. Freedom doesn’t come free. He shared McGee’s deep conviction that the African American’s who fought in our wars and served this country should be treated with dignity and respect dead or alive. Many soldiers were buried there under segregated conditions. Their graves cannot be ignored. McGee has vowed to carry this mission forward until respectful treatment for veterans, alive or passed, has been accomplished.
After seeing the conditions of the cemetery, Miller fully embraced the project. He brought it to the attention of the troopers and members in both organizations. They met with Hann to begin planning the initial phase of the project which was to get the cemetery cleaned. Meetings with Forest Park City Manager Angela Redding and Councilwoman Latresa Wells ensued.
“Being able to help get this clean up started was a blessing for me. It is a privilege to take time to address a need for those who may have been forgotten. While the work was rewarding, I had such a sense of pride being able to honor these individuals by cleaning their resting place,” said Councilwoman Latresa Wells-Ward 4.
“I am honored to work on this community and City Initiative. Preserving our history and the legacy of our historic cemeteries and burial locations such as Macedonia Rock Springs Cemetery in Forest Park is vital to reclaiming our past which helps us better understand our present and future. Our families’ past continues to speak from the ground and reshapes the stories of the future,” said Rep. Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta, District 60.
As it happened, Trooper Willie Bolden met Forest Park Mayor, Angelyne Butler at an event. He shared the project with her and cleanup plans were underway. Early in the project, we learned that Dodd Sterling UMC has been a very active group working in support of the cemetery along with some of the cemetery family members. Their long and rich heritage of this cemetery dates to the antebellum era. We’ve been able to work successfully with them; the Mayor and leadership of the City of Forest Park, and with family members of the three cemeteries which has been nothing short of phenomenal and for which we are all forever grateful. While there is still much work to do, we’ve got the ball rolling!
“Partnering with Macedonia Rock Springs Church on the Cemetery Initiative has been a humbling and rewarding experience. I am pleased we were able to aide in this process and may the souls rested at 730 Conley Road, 732 Conley Road and 734 Conley Road truly Rest In Peace,” said Mayor Angelyne Butler.