Charlotte, NC – Mary Sadler is an 83-year-old African-American who remembers when blacks had to use the other fountain, sit in the back of buses and church. Even in death blacks were buried in the back of the graveyard.
“My momma always said love your enemies. I felt like ya’ll was our enemies cuz you treated us wrong,” reflected Sadler.
Willis Cox is an 80-year-old white man also remembers the days of segregation.
Sadler and Cox knew each other their entire lives, yet they’ve attended two separate churches. Cox is a member of a 200-year-old white church, Paw Creek Presbyterian Church. While Sadler attends the black church, Woodland Presbyterian, a church started by slaves from the white church not long after their emancipation.
However, Sadler and Cox united with the rest of their congregation to remember their common history and to honor those who suffered from the evils of slavery. Today 58 crosses are being pounded into the cemetery grounds behind the white church, each cross finally marking a grave that belonged to a soul long forgotten.
“It’s taken us a long time to recognize the fact that so many people were put down back then and just forgotten. As we age we become more concerned about the life that we lived and the life people lived who came before us,” said Cox.
Pastor Larry Hill of Woodland Presbyterian says today the two churches are starting an honest conversation about their past. “When I first entered these grounds and saw the graves the first thing that came to my mind is that these people never had a chance.”
Pastor Gary Bryant of Paw Creek hopes today is the beginning of something revolutionary even it it’s an old hope. “These folks are as much apart of this place and our history as anybody else out here that has a marker. And anyone to come. We share ground, we share space we share faith and hopefully more and more we can begin to share love.”
While Mary Sadler believes this is all a part of progress she believes there’s more work to do. “We’re free to do a lot of things that my parents weren’t able to do. But we have a long way to go yet.”
For now, with each cross and gravestone Willis Cox and the rest of Paw Creek are making a statement, not about their history but their future.
Stay in the know. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.