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NAACP to lead protest over grave relocation

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The county and state chapters of the NAACP, along with the Atlanta chapter of the National Action Network, have scheduled a march this evening to protest the transfer of a historic gravesite.

Protesters, led by branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, say they will march on the Clayton County Administration Building today at 6 p.m.

Marchers will gather in front of the Historic Clayton County Courthouse, located at 121 South McDonough St., in Jonesboro, and travel three blocks to the Clayton County Administration Building, located at 112 Smith St.

For several months, the NAACP and other groups have battled the Clayton County Board of Commissioners over a decision to allow Stephens, MDS to relocate the historic Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery, near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

In January, the rock-and-recycling landfill received a permit to begin transferring 311 graves, which sit on landfill property, to Carver Memorial Gardens on Upper Riverdale Road.

Clayton NAACP President Dexter Matthews has called the decision "environmental racism," as many of the remains are assumed to be those of former slaves.

The protesting groups have noted that county commissioners have received campaign donations from John D. Stephens, the landfill's owner.

"It is a shame that the Clayton County commissioners have taken money from Stephens, MDS and then voted to move these slaves['] and children['s] graves, some of which are over 120 years old," said Matthews in a written statement.

Michael Stokely, president of the Atlanta chapter of NAN, said he is supporting the march to assure that those buried at the gravesite are respected in the afterlife.

"There is a lot of underhanded stuff going on," said Stokely. "It appears, allegedly, that the gravesite has already been moved, and they have been discovered and are trying to make it right. It's total disrespect."

For more information about the march, contact Dexter Matthews at (404) 323-6943.