The Alabama Historical Commission recently added the Southern Hills Cemetery in Gadsden to the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register - making it the fourth cemetery listed in Etowah County.
Many people today may know the cemetery as the Sixth Street Cemetery, but still more probably have no idea it even exists.
The cemetery is located at the end of Sixth Street, inside the gate to the James D. Martin Wildlife Sanctuary. After passing through the gate, if one follows an unpaved road up the hill, the cemetery can be found at the top.
Gravestones can be seen, but others have been overgrown by the weeds that have overtaken the site. Some stones are broken or have fallen over and there is nothing there to identify the cemetery as such. It looks as though the cemetery has been long forgotten, but judging by this new designation, that’s obviously not the case.
Gadsden City Council member Billy Harris said Cheri Bostick headed the effort to get the old African-American cemetery added to the historic register.
Harris said there are plans to improve the conditions at the cemetery. He said there will be survey work, as well as work to identify the graves there soon.
“It’s a beautiful thing to see this designation,” Harris said.
According to a press release from the Alabama Historical Commission, locals have known the cemetery by several names–Sixth Street and Sunset – but Southern Hills Cemetery is the most familiar.The earliest known headstone there dates to 1888.
Originally platted along the west side of South Sixth Street and following the Coosa River, the cemetery was once associated with the Forrest Hill community. In the 1940s, burials ceased at Southern Hills when the city of Gadsden took the neighborhood by eminent domain. Area residents relocated to another part of town and abandoned the cemetery.
A black fraternal organization, the Mosaic Templars of America, purchased at least five lots adjacent to Southern Hills in July 1915. No longer active, the Mosaic Templars offered insurance and mutual aid to its members in the black community. Gadsden’s “Chamber 1005” functioned into the 1930s. More than 30 headstones in Southern Hills contain the Mosaic Templar emblem.
The commission considers historic cemeteries of great value to understanding Alabama’s history. This register honors those cemeteries particularly worthy of preservation and appreciation.
“The cemetery register is a prestigious listing of historic cemeteries in Alabama,” Lee Anne Wofford, cemetery program coordinator, said. “We currently have over 600 cemeteries listed and are adding more every week.”
The Historical Commission manages and maintains the Historic Cemetery Register for the State of Alabama. The register officially recognizes and honors family, church, and community cemeteries established at least 40 years ago. This popular program helps Alabamians honor, identify, document, and conserve their historic places.
Listing in the state cemetery register is an honorary designation imposing no restrictions on property owners. State law protects all cemeteries from willful desecration and destruction. Other Etowah County cemeteries on the registry are Beth Israel Cemetery, Mark Phillips Cemetery, and the Old Harmony Cemetery.