Journey to Brown Hill
By Timothy Collins
Barber's Brown Hill Cemetery Book Makes Positive Waves
Sam Barber’s recent book, A Journey to Purchasing and Naming The Brown Hill Cemetery, has made positive waves in Greenville, NC, since its publication in 2015.
Greenville city officials recently had archaeology students from East Carolina University conduct a study of the former Sycamore Hill Baptist Church site in the Town Common in an effort to determine if any graves were left in the area after the cemetery was moved in the late 1960s to accommodate an urban renewal project.
During his research, Dr. Barber discovered that remains of several dozen African Americans buried in the cemetery were lost when the bodies were moved. It was hoped the East Carolina University archaeological study might show traces of graves, but extensive earth movement as part of developing the Town Commons obliterated not only what was left of the cemetery, but also the Sycamore Hill Baptist Church foundation.
Sycamore Hill was destroyed by fire in 1968 at the height of the struggle over the future of the church and its neighborhood. Arson is suspected.
In addition, Dr. Barber’s book has had another significant impact. Future development of a new plaza at the Town Common might include a bell tower that resembles the original one from the Sycamore Hill Baptist Church. Rebuilding the bell tower would be a fitting memorial to the church, its members, and the cemetery,
Dr. Barber’s book is a groundbreaking work in the study of race relations as they were played out in the lives and deaths of African Americans over a number of decades in Greenville, NC. It is a story of quiet perseverance in the face of racial injustice, yet seeks to offer hope that the historic heritage of African Americans must, and can be preserved.
While the book covers the story of one city, it can provide inspiration for others. Readers with an appreciation of history, as well as those who believe in—and advocate—for civil rights will find this sober yet respectful glimpse into history to be informative in regards to both past events and remedies for present circumstances, especially in the light of recent events in Greenville.