bethlehem cemetery

Clay Electric has awarded $11,000 to Keep Alachua County Beautiful (KACB) for the restoration of the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery. This grant is intended to help restore the historic establishment, with efforts mainly focused on tree removal to restore the cemetery in Alachua County. 

The Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery was established in 1875 as part of the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Church built by freed slaves. There are 80 known burials in the cemetery, and the earliest of those potentially belong to former slaves of the Cottonwood Plantation in Archer, Florida or the Haile Plantation in Gainesville, Florida, according to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. The tombstones in the cemetery lie on the ground covered in dirt broken from their bases with weathered inscriptions faintly showing dates of birth as early as 1822, about 43 years before slavery was abolished. 

KACB is partnering with the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery Restoration Organization (BMECRO) to assist with the preservation efforts of this historic site. This project aligns with KACB’s efforts of preserving and beautifying the community for all residents. The removal of trees helps KACB and BMECRO achieve their goal of protecting the historic tombstones and ensuring safety for visitors so that community awareness of the rich history that this African American cemetery possesses can increase. 

 The first cleanup of the cemetery was held in 1999 by Clyde Caretha Williams, former president of BMECRO. In 2019, a KACB grant allowed for the completion of a survey and removal of fallen trees from Hurricane Irma. In May of 2019, the cemetery was added to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation 2019 Florida’s Save list, which was designed to raise awareness for endangered historic sites in Florida. The addition of BMEC to the list shows the significance of the cemetery to the cultural history of the state. 

Volunteer events for the restoration of the cemetery will be open to any members of the community. Volunteers will be influential in preserving these historic cemeteries, and it will be a top priority to recruit volunteers from the small communities that Clay Electric serves.

For more information on planning public projects, contact KACB at greatamericancleanup.kacb@gmail.com, kacb.org, or (352) 371-9444. For information about the BMEC, go to https://www.facebook.com/BMECRO/ or contact BMEC at bmecro.alachua@gmail.com. 

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