Most days, people take for granted the existence of their local cemetery. The reluctance to acknowledge them stems mostly from how the discussion of death and the passing of loved ones is uncomfortable for most people and this has led to a number of cemeteries succumbing to time and disrepair. The Watkins Street Cemetery in Natchez, Mississippi was one such cemetery but thanks to the donated time of a local historian and archaeologist, people are able to locate their loved ones in the 100-year-old historically black cemetery.
Jim Barrett will be honored next month at the Association of Gravestone Studies annual convention at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL for his dedication to mapping the Watkins Street Cemetery.
Back in 2012, the Worthy Women of Watkins Street, a local nonprofit that oversees the cemetery, were quoted a price to map their cemetery which they just could not afford. That was when Barrett, a retired instructor, and author, stepped up and offered to map the cemetery for the organization.
He used his expertise in the field of archaeology to map the cemetery much like an archaeological site, gridding off the 7-acre cemetery in order to get the names, dates, and other pertinent information from each of the over 1,400 headstones. He then compiled a list of all the names, in alphabetical order, and attached a correlating number so that family and friends of the deceased could more easily locate their relatives and loved ones.
The entire project took almost four years to complete and, once all the maps were finished, Barrett provided copies to the Worthy Women of Watkins Street, the Historic Natchez Foundation, and the Natchez Museum of African-American History and Culture.
For his hard work, Barrett will be receiving the Fred Oakley Award at the Association for Gravestone Studies association’s annual conference next month, which is an award that honors those who help with the association’s mission of interpretation, conservation, preservation, and education of gravestones.