At South-View Cemetery, Winifred Watts Hemphill is Keeper of Black Atlanta’s Departed History

 

While Winifred Watts Hemphill was growing up in Durham, North Carolina, dinner discussions often revolved around funerals. Her grandmother, who lived with her family, had the Atlanta Constitution delivered to Durham. After all, she needed to check on business at South-View Cemetery, one of the nation’s oldest black cemeteries.

“She’d come to the dinner table and say, ‘Well, Albert had a busy week. He had six burials,’” Hemphill says, breaking out in laughter. Albert H. Watts—her grandmother’s son and Hemphill’s uncle—helped manage South-View just as his father and grandfather had before him.

The kids at the dinner table groaned when their grandmother read the obituaries, but the family had long felt proud of South-View.

“Ever since the cemetery started, somebody from our family’s been in charge of managing it,” Hemphill says. “It was a piece of pride, especially for my dad’s side of the family.”

Today, Hemphill serves as president of South-View Cemetery Association, running the historic South Atlanta cemetery of 80,000 and helping bury 400 people every year. South-View’s history is intertwined with city’s, and it’s the final resting place for many prominent black Atlantans.

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