Historical marker placed for cemetery at River Bluff High School

Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 8:35 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday morning, students and staff at River Bluff High School dedicated an official historical marker to the original Mount Zion AME Church.

The historic Mount Zion AME Church once stood on the grounds of River Bluff High School. Founded in 1857, the church was relocated in 1929 to nearby Cromer Rd.

When the church moved, its cemetery remained at the original site and over time was forgotten. When lead teacher for the Law and Global Policy Development Department, Mike Burgess, was hired at the school eight years ago, the principal handed him archaeological findings from the gravesite.

“I’ve done historical research and archaeology for my entire adulthood,” Burgess said. “After reading (the archaeological report), that has started an eight-year-long mission to get the history here, interpret it, get it preserved, get a narrative told.”

As many of the graves were unmarked, Burgess worked over the years with various resources including ancestry websites, information from New Mount Zion Trustee, Phillip Bennett, and data from the Lexington County Museum.

Students in Burgess’s history classes were included in the project. Burgess created a tour of the cemetery and several other African American historical sites in the area, and for his higher-level classes, he had the students lead their own guided tours for younger classes.

This year, Burgess’s students led tours for a total of 525 sophomores. Some students were motivated to participate in the project outside the classroom by volunteering with upkeep for the cemetery on Saturdays.

New Mount Zion AME Trustee, Phillip Bennett, was ‘wowed’ by the students’ dedication to the church’s history. “For me, it was a heartwarming experience. Especially for the students to come out on a Saturday. A Saturday! I mean, who does that?”

Even freshmen students recognize the importance of the project. “This will show another side of the story. This will show how much history this place holds. It can open an eye for lots of people,” Paige Buckley said.

Church members that attended the sign dedication ceremony included New Zion Reverend Timothy Taylor and his wife, Albertha. “For us to come together as the people, and not to look at color, but to come together as people and love in unity meant so much,” Rev. Taylor said.

Although this project may seem complete, Burgess said this is just the beginning. “What we started today with the sign dedication is to open it up to the community.”

In the future, Burgess hopes to interpret three other African American historical sites in the area. As for the New Mount Zion Cemetery, he hopes to develop self-guided tours and informational brochures so the rich history of the church and its congregants is easily accessible to the community.

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