Sidewalks on graves of children and Confederate dead? Over these dead bodies
John Archibald
March 30, 2014

Don’t blame Kenny Brown if he feels a little protective of the old Union Hill Cemetery off Hollywood Boulevard.

That’s what he’s been for three decades. Its protector.

Like when he saw those two people naked and unashamed, doing that thing naked people do on the ground where five generations of his family are buried.

"I asked the dumbest question ever asked," he said. "What are y’all doing?"


They stopped a second or two, panting a mind-your-own-business warning. But they didn’t stop. So Brown called the cops.

"I ain’t no prude or nothing, but they’re doing it on top of my Aunt Bertie!"

Oh, the stories a cemetery tells.

It’s not just folks in compromising positions that cause problems. Brown busted up a drug deal on cemetery land long ago, and tells of chasing away cauldron-toting witches.

"We are honor-bound to do this," he said. "We have to be here."

He and other members of the Families and Friends of Union Hill Cemetery have seen too much, really. They’ve seen family members’ bodies dug up all around the cemetery to make way for buildings and roads and the rush of progress.

So they’re worried now. Tentative plans involving Homewood, Mountain Brook and the Alabama Department of Transportation would add a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 280 on Hollywood Boulevard. Such a plan would require sidewalks that would – as families of the dead figure it – interfere with graves of at least six and as many as 17 people.

The cemetery is technically in Birmingham, but it sits where Homewood and Mountain Brook come together. Runners, who have pushed for the bridge and sidewalks, argue that the current bridge is a pedestrian hazard, that there should be sidewalks for safety and convenience. And they are of course right. Running across the Hollywood Boulevard bridge now is like breaking through Checkpoint Charlie.

But there can be a need for sidewalks. And a respect for the dead.

Betty Anne Jones believes at least three of her family members, including two infant sons of her great grandfather, are buried in the right of way and face "the ultimate insult" of being paved over. Homewood has assured family members it doesn’t want to do that, and she believes the city is sincere.

But there have been so many wrongs done to these families.

Birmingham once sought to condemn the cemetery as vacant just to sell the property. Bodies were dug up to build 280, and again for nearby buildings. They were replanted, sometimes haphazardly, in Union Hill.

This is a cemetery that predates the Civil War. It is the final home to 27 Civil War vets, to the people, as Jones puts it "who settled this valley."

So yes, Union Hill needs people like Brown to protest the inappropriate acts. It needs people to say what are you doing even when the naked prospect of progress seems so … appealing.

There is, it appears, time to sort out the issues.

Alabama Historical Commission Historic Preservation Director Lee Anne Wofford said a plan such as this will require that historic or environmental issues be addressed. It’s not far enough along for those things to be considered.

And ALDOT director John Cooper wrote to Brown, assuring him regulations about honoring gravesites will not be overlooked.

"Requiring these sidewalks does not ignore any potential issues that may conflict," Cooper wrote. "On the contrary, any graves that would be impacted by the construction of sidewalks must be properly addressed in accordance with all current regulations."

We can have sidewalks and still honor the dead. Surely there is room for both.

If only for the sake of history. And Karma.

"I wouldn’t go out and run on their graves," Brown said. "Why would they want to run on mine?"

These souls have been bothered enough.

© 2014 Alabama Media Group

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