‘We can’t let this go on’ say sisters suing HOA over ‘disrespectful’ actions – but it’s nothing to do with their homes

TWO sisters have made it their mission to save a historical part of their neighborhood that has seen the pair sue their local HOA.

Audrey Collins, 71, and Rhonda Jackson are desperate to restore the Piney Grove Cemetary in Atlanta, Georgia, from the 1820s.

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A historical burial site from the 1800s that has been left in disarray is now at the heart of a legal battleCredit: Facebook
Audrey Collins and Rhonda Jackson launched a community campaign to help clear up the site and hold those responsible accountable

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Audrey Collins and Rhonda Jackson launched a community campaign to help clear up the site and hold those responsible accountableCredit: CNN
According to a lawsuit, the local HOA is responsible for the maintenance of the area after making a promise to be granted a new development

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According to a lawsuit, the local HOA is responsible for the maintenance of the area after making a promise to be granted a new developmentCredit: Facebook

The historical African American burial site dates back to 1827 and has over 300 people buried there including family members of Collins and Jackson and slaves from pre-emancipation.

The one-acre plot has been forgotten by many with fallen trees, detached headstones, and overgrown vegetation, making the grave site inaccessible.

Collins and Jackson who have at least 11 family members buried at the site have said that the current state it is in is disrespectful to those laid to rest there.

The 71-year-old who suffers from a bad hip told CNN that she is unable to visit her grandmother and other ancestors because the path to get there is “too treacherous.”

“I get emotional because, on the very first cleanup, I promised my Grandma when we cleaned her grave, I said, ‘I promise you, this is not going to happen again, we’re going to make sure you’re treated with respect,” Collins said.

“It rubs on my heart heavily,” she added.

“Our goal is to restore this final resting place for the more than 300 souls buried there, some of which were slaves, allowing them to rest with dignity,” the sisters wrote on their Facebook page.

“The ultimate goal is being designated a historic place by the National Register of Historic Places.”

While the sisters have made progress with the land with volunteers from the local area including goats to help clear vegetation, they have now filed a lawsuit against the local HOA.

Those with descendants in the graveyard have claimed in the lawsuit that the luxury townhomes’ HOA has failed its duty to maintain the burial site which has been left in complete disarray.

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The site was originally owned by the Piney Grove Baptist Church but it was demolished in 1996 after suffering from structural damage, according to the sisters.

Now, The Bluffs at Lenox Homeowners Association owns the land and is responsible for its upkeep, the civil lawsuit filed in January claims.

‘VIOLATED’

The complaint alleges that the Piney Grove Baptist Church sold part of the land in 2002 to a developer who attempted to relocate the cemetery in 2006.

However, the developer then ceased to do so due to “opposition from descendants and local officials,” according to the lawsuit.

The developer then allegedly vowed to maintain the cemetery for its residents and members of the community if “the City of Atlanta let it proceed with a luxury townhouse development neighboring the Cemetary,” the complaint states.

An ordinance for the development was issued by the city council “provided that the developer met the maintenance and access conditions,” according to the lawsuit.

However, the HOA has argued that the burial plot had already been abandoned when they took over the land and that its maintenance has only recently been an issue.

At a court hearing on Friday, Kathryn Whitlock, the attorney for the HOA laid out its side of the argument.

“The plaintiffs themselves had been to the cemetery when they were children and had not been back in years, and when they got back it was overgrown and it was difficult to find grave markers and boundaries.”

The attorney also highlighted concerns about liability if members of the volunteer clean-up group are injured on the land owned by the HOA which could see the organization held responsible.

The judge in the case has yet to make a ruling on if the HOA is responsible for the maintenance of the area.

The lawsuit is seeking a court declaration that Piney Grove is a public cemetery, an injunction forcing the HOA to maintain and provide access to the site, as well as an award of damages.

“I have a great-grandmother, grandmother, grandaddy and a younger brother that’s in the cemetery … but we know there’s more,” Jackson said.

“There are some detached headstones,” her sister added.

“One was my grandfather’s, and we’ve since been able to locate the headstone, but it’s nowhere near where I remember it should be. But at least we found it.”

Meanwhile, John Wesley Wright Senior, a friend of the sisters who has his ancestors buried there said it makes him feel “violated.”

“It makes me feel violated to see my ancestors, my grandmother buried out here,” he told the news outlet.

“It’s hurtful that the overgrowth has taken place. It shouldn’t be like this going to a final resting place.

“You should be able to rest. Are they resting? No.”

LOST IDENTITY

As the sisters and members of the local community continue their battle to restore the sacred piece of land, its value to current and future generations has been repeatedly highlighted.

“African Americans, when they came over to this country, they didn’t have a name. They don’t know who they are,” Jackson said.

“And when they gave us a name, the cemetery tells the story of the tracing back to where those people are from and what communities.”

“We lose our identity,” Collins added.

“It’s an enormous window to the past and we can’t let it die.

“We just can’t let this go on.”

Wright Mitchell, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation agrees with the sisters and noted that the site is one of few physical links connected African Americans with their ancestors who were displaced over decades.

“That’s been going since Emancipation where African American communities are displaced through a measure of different tactics [like] development,” Mitchell explained.

Such comments highlight the pain that has been caused by the abandonment of the burial site due to planned developments.

The trust added that the site is “one of the last vestiges of the several African American communities that once thrived in the area.”

Piney Grove has since been added to the Trust’s 2024 list of “10 Places in Peril” in Georgia.

'We just can't let this go on’ Collins said as members of the community feel their African American heritage is being wiped out

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‘We just can’t let this go on’ Collins said as members of the community feel their African American heritage is being wiped outCredit: Facebook

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