Lonely county roads in the Delta offer many fascinations if you know where to look. There’s one spot along New Hope Road in northern Lonoke County, Arkansas that you could miss if you’re not paying attention. They say that slaves were buried there.
There is at least one person resting there who was, in all liklihood, born a slave but who died free.
Her name is Mandia Medlock and what stories she could tell. She was born in 1832, the exact date unknown. She died on December 18, 1932. Inscribed on her tombstone, along with her name, are the lines, "When she died she was 100 years old; She is my mother I said she is my mother." A search failed to produce a source for the latter sentence. It sounds as if it might be part of a quote.
According to my mother-in-law Hazel Welch Cole, a native of the area, the Medlocks are a prominent African-American family in the area to this day. I would welcome additional information from anyone knowing more about them.
The cemetery has been in poor condition, but recently cleaned. Some of the graves are unmarked. Some rest under poured concrete tombstones crudely inscribed by hand. Some contain no markings at all, just a tombstone. A modern marker identifies the grave of Dora Lee Medlock, who was born in 1915 and died in 2001. She was the daughter of Willie and Essie Baker Medlock and was perhaps Mandia’s granddaughter?
Some records identify the cemetery as Macedonia Cemetery after a Baptist Church on a nearby state highway. Other records identify it as New Hope African American Cemetery. Its counterpart lies a half-mile to the west and most likely contains the graves of those whose families no doubt owned any slaves or former slaves interred down the road. The physical separation in death mirrors the cultural separation that existed in life.
Further information concerning this site will be appreciated and will appear here in subsequent blogs. It is a place whose legacy deserves remembrance.
On this Labor Day, we honor workers who have made this country a symbol of success throughout the world. It is, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “… altogether fitting and proper that we do so.” Maybe for a moment during the day, we might also think about those who helped build the country for little reward, other than a quiet resting place on a lonely county road.
“But it was a long time after dat befo’ de Big Surrender at Richmond. Den de big bell ring in Atlanta and all de men in gray uniforms had to go to Moultrie, and bury their swords in the ground to show they was never to fight about slavery no mo’. So den we knowed we was free.” — Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God.