1880s - Oak Tree Union Cemetery

Cemetery Story Gets Wider Audience
by Susan Pines

What started as an in-house effort to draw attention to an abandoned, historically black cemetery has suddenly gotten a much larger audience.

When Graphic editor Linda Charlton paid a visit to a Clermont city council meeting on March 13, the last thing she expected was that she would trigger televised coverage of the cemetery. She was not there because of the cemetery, which isn't in Clermont anyway. She was there to make a presentation about a death investigation that she has been following. Purely by chance, a television reporter and cameraman was there also, drawn to the council by an unrelated story. The two reporters made each other's acquaintance, and Charlton told the television reporter (Chase Cain from Fox 35 WOFL) of the story of the forgotten black cemetery.

Five days later, Charlton was on camera, giving the Fox crew a tour of the cemetery in the woods. In Charlton's words, "the best thing about the session with the television crew was that we came on two gravestones I had not seen before. One of them is a WWI veteran. The other is a man who, from his date of death and age at death, was most likely born a slave." What a find! That now makes it four World War I vets and unknown number of graves of individuals of men, women and children.

Charlton started this venture four years before the first of the Graphic cemetery stories appeared (published Nov. 4, 2011), when she wrote it about for another publication. That particular publication no longer covers Groveland, and had extremely limited exposure in Groveland. As a result of that story, however, she was asked by a close friend to "do something about the veterans."

Charlton had been told about the cemetery while attempting to find information about a rumored outdoor place of worship south of Groveland called Harmony Hill (or Hominy Hill).

Since Graphic staff visited the cemetery in October of 2011, Charlton has, bit by bit, searched for descendants of the veterans. She made contact with two of the grandchildren of one of the veterans (Joe Green) in January. In the wake of the first television broadcast, additional grandchildren of Joe Green came forward, and their first visit to their grandfather's grave happened on camera two days later. Other people have come forward as well, offering services that in all likelihood will make the concept of a restored cemetery a reality. And if the veterans end up being moved to Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell to lie in rest amongst their fellow veterans, their original headstones can still stay in the cemetery in the woods, allow visitors to better connect with their roots.

For this is not about who gets the story, it is about the media community cooperating amongst themselves, and the community at large coming together to preserve history and roots that would otherwise have been lost in the woods.

New Life at Cemetery
By Linda Charlton

There's signs of life at Groveland's abandoned black cemetery. Specifically, there was a family reunion there of sorts on March 20, as descendants of army veteran Joe Green gathered to visit his grave. It was the first time the descendants had been to the cemetery. In fact, until recently, the family members did not even know where the cemetery was. Some had been told that the cemetery was in an old grove near a certain intersection. Others had just been told that the cemetery was "somewhere in the area."

Joe Green is one of four WWI army veterans buried there. An unknown number of civilians are also buried in the cemetery in the woods for, as several long-time members of the community have indicated, the cemetery was filled up by the late '40s. Judging by the comments of those same long-time 'Grovelanders,' the visit by Greens descendants was likely the first such family visit in at least 40 years. As one of Green's granddaughters, Cassandra Davis, said upon seeing the headstone, "We praise the Lord that he's still standing, and that we have the opportunity to experience this."

As for what to do next, the consensus among family members at the gravesite was that it would be nice to see grandaddy Green moved to the national cemetery in Bushnell, but the original headstone should stay in the cemetery in the woods, where it has been standing since 1938. As for the other three veterans buried there, it is an open question as to what the wishes of the families are, for the families have not yet been located.

James V. Middleton died in 1928 as a youthful widower. He was 42. There is some indication that he had children, possibly two of them. The man was from Liberty County in Georgia.

Gus Williams, who died in 1938, was 49, and was from Alabama. He left behind a widow names Lucile.

Henry Spellman died in 1931. Very little is known about him at this point.

[Contributors: Susan Pines, Linda Charlton, Jason Brown]

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