PHOTO BY PAM CLOUD
Sue Edwards repositions a broken headstone for Thomas Guy DeGraftenreed, infant son of B.D. and Celie DeGraftenreed, who died in 1907 at the age of 9 months. Edwards started the cleanup of the Norwood family cemetery near her Greenwood home, which is on Norwood Drive, named for the family.
PHOTO BY PAM CLOUD
Recent cleanup efforts at the Norwood family cemetery at the northern edge of Greenwood have yielded a plot of some 40-50 graves of descendants of Henry Norwood.
Many called him a good neighbor.
And now neighbors have come together to honor the descendants of Henry Norwood in the family’s burial plot on the northern edge of Greenwood.
A history buff, Sue Edwards, who lives on Norwood Drive in nearby Hilltop Estates, became interested in finding out more about the family for which her street is named.
“Jim Norwood was a black man that had acreage,” said Edwards, a member of the South Sebastian County Historical Society, adding that she wasn’t certain if he rented or owned the land back in the 1930s and 1940s. “He made his living by selling milk and eggs and butter and working for different people in the community. His wife, Fannie, was a domestic in many of the better homes as a baby sitter.”
Edwards said the couple was very well known in the Greenwood area.
“They were well thought of in the community,” she explained, noting that Jim always wore an ironed white shirt with his clean overalls. “That sparked my interest. They thought enough of him to name a street after him.”
From a neighbor, Edwards learned the Norwood family cemetery was nearby. Approaching the property, owned by the Ganns, she saw a tangled mess of vines, brambles and underbrush and downed trees. But from the middle of all that brush, she spotted a tombstone.
So, with the permission of the property owner, she went to work, using hand-snippers to clip away the briers and brush in an effort to clear the cemetery. Riding back and forth on her ATV, Edwards spent many hours at the family cemetery since the summer of 2012.
“I’d hate to think that I’d been gone for 100 years and no one could find me,” Edwards said, looking out over the cleared cemetery that reveals 40-50 graves, all but four marked with flat, native stones stood on end.
Four of the graves were marked with tombstones, three of which are broken and in disrepair, marking the graves of Celie DeGraftenreed (1884-1908), her son, Thomas Guy DeGraftenreed (1907), and Rosie Caldwell (1895). The stone for Mollie Burgear, who died in 1902, is still intact and is the one Edwards eyed amongst the brush.
“All this looked like that,” said Otis Edwards, Sue’s husband, pointing to the entangled vines and brambles and brush next to the cleared cemetery. “She started with a pair of hand-snippers all by herself. She’d snip, snip, snip.”
“I’d set little goals,” Sue Edwards explained, noting that she’d spend anywhere from one to two hours at a time working at the cemetery. “I’d stack and rake.”
Neighbors Dan and Donna Gladwin, also historical society volunteers, joined the Edwardses on the project. They have been quiet stewards, tirelessly working without want for fanfare of their efforts.
Boy Scout Troop 54, under the leadership of Rod Powell, took on the cemetery as a civic project. The Gann and McKinney families assisted; even Herb Norwood of Fort Smith, a descendant of Henry’s, came to help.
“It’s been a community effort,” Sue Edwards said.
Tim Mulvihill, an archaeologist with the University of Arkansas Archaeological Survey’s research station at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, recently mapped the cemetery to determine the location of any unmarked graves. Using electrical resistivity, Mulvihill was able to collect data for analysis to determine the physical properties of the soil; results have not yet been finalized.
“When they cleared it, what they found were field stones and they set them up on end,” explained Mulvihill. “They may or may not be graves. We also have to look for a pattern about the size of graves. When we see a pattern of things in rows, they are likely graves.”
As the area was uncovered, volunteers found two areas encircled with native stones. The only artifact discovered was a broken base of an oil lamp.
Sue Edwards learned that the Norwood homestead was also nearby. On land that caught fire in July 2012, Edwards explored and found the well, large rocks carved with “Greenwood” and “R.N.,” along with rusted wash tubs about a mile from the cemetery on a hilltop overlooking Greenwood.
The descendants of Henry Norwood, including those buried at the family plot and Jim and Fannie Norwood, who are both buried at Oak Cemetery in Fort Smith, are remembered as peaceful, hardworking members of the community.
Born into slavery on a North Carolina plantation, Henry and 50 other slaves were relocated to new plantation property in Arkansas near the Cossatot River and Horatio. After emancipation, Henry, 16 at the time, and his brother, Bill, 30, walked from Horatio to Sebastian County in search of a new life. They found work from the Gilliam and McKinney families and became valued members of the community. Henry became known as a peacemaker, community veterinarian, hunting and fishing guide and goodwill ambassador, according to an article written by the late Oscar Stallings, who remembered Henry Norwood when he was a young boy.
“Sue’s done most of the blood, sweat and tears in that cemetery,” explained Rich McKinney, who married Sandra Gann, daughter of the cemetery property owner, and great-grandson of L.B. McKinney, who employed the Norwood brothers when they first came to the area and assisted them in acquiring homesteads.
The South Sebastian County Historical Society has applied for a grant to build fencing at the cemetery; its members hope a younger generation will step forward to help maintain it.
Spring flowers are blooming at the cemetery and the nearby homestead. Green grass now blankets the land, along with a feeling of serenity and tranquility.
“It’s beautiful out here,” Edwards said, adding that she found a fawn in the woods one day. “As I spent time here, I felt a connection with the family. That’s what kept me coming back.
“If they had been mistreated, I wanted to make amends. I wanted them to know they didn’t live in vain,” she added. “We still remember their family here.”