More graves found at Continental site than expected; reburials slowed

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R.L. Nave, Mississippi Today

Headstones from the Continental Tire plant site await re-erection at the Bolton Cemetery.

After almost a full year of excavation at the future Continental Tire site, more burial sites have been uncovered than expected, and most of them still have not been relocated.

In early 2016, state lawmakers approved a deal to offer $274 million in bonds for Continental to build a plant in Hinds County with the promise from the company to hire 2,500 people.

A cultural assets report about the site, compiled by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2014, cites the existence of a cemetery known as New Salem on the nearly 900-acre tract near Clinton. The report also notes that the headstones are consistent with the 19th century planter class and that the cemetery also contains unmarked graves, likely of slaves of the white people buried on the grounds.

Excavation of the site began in August. At the time, Mississippi economic development officials estimated there could be as many as 250 unmarked graves at New Salem.

Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the Mississippi Development Authority, which is overseeing the relocation of the grave sites to the nearby Bolton Cemetery, said approximately 300 actual or potential burial sites were identified using a variety of methods, including ground penetrating radar.

A few intact caskets have been re-interred in Bolton while the majority of the sites remain under review by archaeological and anthropological teams from the University of Mississippi Center for Archaeological Research, which plans to complete its studies later this year, Rent said.

The large majority of the identified burial sites either had no casket or once may have contained a wooden casket, Rent said.

“All skeletal remains and any artifacts found without intact caskets were carefully excavated, separately stored and then were cataloged based on (GPS) location and information obtained in the field,” Rent said.

Several headstones are stacked in the Bolton cemetery. The markers are associated with remains or artifacts found at the original cemetery. When the remains are re-interred, any associated headstones will be re-erected.

Last year, several residents in the Bolton area told Mississippi Today about the existence of another cemetery, where African American burials were conducted.

“The white ones was on the left side, and we was on the right,” Ernestine Jones recalled as she sketched a map of the separate white and black grave sites, marking the New Salem cemetery with a “W” for whites and the black cemetery with a “B.”

Rent said crews did not find the cemetery Jones remembers.

“After extensive surveys, no additional sites were located on the other side of the old road,” Rent said.