Sunday, August 2, 2015

Singleton tells of August 1990 trip to old Jewish cemetery at Claiborne

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Is old cemetery forgotten” was originally published in the Aug. 30, 1990 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

A few days back I took it upon myself to go by and visit the old Jewish cemetery located on the outskirts of the old town of Claiborne. Some years back, the museum and historical society constructed a barbwire fence around the final resting place of much of the Jewish population that resided in the town by the river.

This is one of the many historical spots in our county, so I decided to check and see for myself the condition of the cemetery. I was amazed to find the total desecration of the old burying ground where so many of the early settlers of Claiborne were laid to rest. Fallen trees and underbrush made it almost impossible to find the few remaining tombstones still standing. Many had fallen and been broken by the rotten trees that lay across them.

Several of the graves have been dug into by vandals. The fence that had been placed around the old burial spot has long been broken down and destroyed. The area was in total ruins. I could see that this important, historical spot in our county was soon to pass into oblivion. Within a year or two, the Jewish cemetery of Claiborne would be no more.

As I made my way through the heavy underbrush and the fallen trees to the few remaining tombstones, I thought about the many pages of history that were being overlooked here in the briars and undergrowth. As I visited the tomb of the Claiborne merchant who had been murdered while he attended his store, I wondered if the town’s history would have been different had he lived to be an old man. I thought of the many tombs with names of families that had left the town by the river and found homes in such places as Mobile and New Orleans.

As I searched through the rubble and rotted timber, the graves of several small children could be seen. One had been dug into; the tombstone had been knocked down and broken and the pieces of the headstone thrown carelessly back into the hole that the vandals didn’t even bother to fill. Looking at the dates, I could see that these small children had most likely fallen prey to the dreaded yellow fever plaque that had struck the town in the 1850s. Many of Claiborne’s citizens fell victim to this dreaded fever that nearly wiped out the town.

Such a pity that we cannot, or will not, preserve the historic places throughout our areas. This cemetery is not the only one that needs attention. Our county is rich in early history, when settlers came from all parts of the world to find lands and homes along the great river and in the small river settlements that grew from the hard work and dedication of the people who stopped here.

I know that we cannot bury ourselves in the past. But we owe something to the many who gave their all so that generations yet unborn would have easier lives in the years to come. With all our technology and know-how, we must not separate ourselves from our early ancestors, who many times gave their lives so that we could survive.

I have a saying that a person or a country cannot know where they are going unless they know where they have been. We have, through so-called progress, destroyed many of the old, important places that were rich in history. We are the only country in the world that places so little value on many of the things that made us great.

Visit any country in the world and one will find that the important places in the country’s history are well preserved and well kept. If these places in our area are to be preserved, take it from me, we had better get started. We are approaching the edge of the brink of time when it will be too late; there will be no bringing back that which is lost. The old Jewish cemetery, decaying away in the woods at Claiborne, is no exception.

Our America must turn away from the fairyland world that we live in to once again face reality and search for that which made us great. This we must do if we are to survive the coming tomorrows. The signs are everywhere; one only has to look. Pericles, a Greek general, wrote the following in 900 B.C., knowing even then that this was important for the survival of any country .

I would have you, day by day,
Fix your eyes on the greatness
Of your country, until you are
Filled with the love for her;
And when you are impressed with
The spectacle of her glory, reflect
That it had been acquired by men that
Knew their duty and had the courage
To do it…

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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