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Dickey Relative Restoring Cemetery

June 1, 1999

MINERAL BLUFF, Ga. (AP) _ The old cemetery atop Hogback Mountain contains the graves of two ancestors of the late author James Dickey, best known for the novel ``Deliverance.″ It also holds the graves of their slaves _ all marked by simple stones with no inscriptions.

Now Dickey’s cousin and an apparent descendant of the Dickey family’s slaves are teaming up to restore the forgotten cemetery and find out more about those buried there.

Fred Dickey’s great-great-great grandparents are buried in the plot that dates to 1842. When he first visited the site, the grass and weeds were up to his chin, the slave markers loose in the ground and the wall enclosing the plots crumbling.

Dickey is hoping to find out more about the people interred with his family.

``They may have been buried in the family plot but no one even took the time to scratch their name in stone,″ Dickey said during a visit to the site in mid-May. ``We can’t give them back their lost lives, but we could at least do this. We owe them that.″

As a child growing up in DeKalb, Ill., Dickey recalled hearing many stories about the cemetery in the north Georgia mountains. But it wasn’t until his famous cousin, James Dickey, died in 1997 that he visited the gravesite. The writer won the 1966 National Book Award for poetry for ``Buckdancer’s Choice.″

On top of Hogback Mountain, Fred Dickey found the 40-by-50-foot graveyard where George Dickey, who died in 1842, and Hannah Taylor Dickey, who died in 1868, were buried beneath white marble tombstones and surrounded by the graves of some 26 slaves.

``Often there were separate slave cemeteries but it just depended on the attitude of the master,″ said James Cobb, chair of the history department at the University of Georgia.

In the 1860 census, the widowed Hannah Dickey was listed as the county’s second-largest slave owner with 15 slaves, said Ethelene Jones, a local historian. The Dickeys, who were white, apparently had several small farms.

``The cemetery was above the settlement,″ she said. ``We’ve often wondered why the Dickeys moved so far up the mountain. The cemetery seems to have been so far from where their farms were.″

Because there are no names on the graves nor birth or death records, there’s nothing to suggest when or how the slaves lived or died.

Dickey, who runs a nonprofit organization in San Diego that makes anti-crime and anti-drug videos for inner-city youth, has spent $2,600 to rebuild the 3-foot concrete barrier wall, remove the weeds and tree stumps and ground the slave markers in cement. He’s also sent out dozens of letters in hopes of finding any black Dickeys from the area that may be descendants of the slaves.

His search has turned up at least one _ Michael Dickey of Cleveland, Tenn., whose family lineage can be traced back to Fannin County and who remembers his mother mentioning Hannah Dickey’s name.

``It made me feel like I was standing on hallowed ground,″ Michael Dickey, 50, said of his initial visit to the cemetery. ``There’s a lot of history there.″

Michael Dickey has joined Fred and some other white Dickeys to work on the restoration project, which will include a 6-by-6-foot granite marker at the cemetery’s entrance. A rededication ceremony is planned for June 13.

Bringing the families together for restoring and rededicating the cemetery, Fred and Michael Dickey hope, will not only save the historic graveyard but also make a statement of racial reconciliation and respect.

``White America has got some apologizing to do,″ Fred Dickey said. ``I think that although it’s in the past, we still have to square the past.″

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