Slave cemetery featured in APR's national award-winning series part of new tourism focus
The Alabama Department of Tourism, lawmakers and other groups are working to bring awareness and tourism dollars to communities along one of Alabama's first roadways. One is the location of the Old Prewett Slave Cemetery, which figures prominently in Alabama Public Radio’s international award-winning series “No Stone Unturned: Preserving Slave Cemeteries in Alabama.” APR’s program was honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Series from RTDNA, a national “Salute to Excellence Award” from the National Association of Black Journalists, and an international Gabriel Award from the Catholic Media Association.
The Prewett cemetery is located on Byler Road, which is as old as Alabama, authorized by state lawmakers in 1819, to bring settlers to the western part of the state.
The Alabama Department of Tourism, lawmakers and the Byler Road Steering Committee are working to bring awareness and tourism dollars to communities along one of Alabama's first roadways, the Tuscaloosa News reported.
"The fact that this is the cornerstone of the development of the state of Alabama from its earliest days makes it unique. I think it is going to have long-term positive consequences," Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, told the Tuscaloosa News.
Sentell spoke at an event this week that kicked off a campaign to begin raising awareness of Alabama's historic road.
Byler Road was authorized by the Alabama State Legislature in 1819 and was constructed under the supervision of Captain John Byler between 1820 and 1823. It served as a toll road since it had to pay for itself. The road began on the Tennessee River in Lauderdale County and ran southward to the Black Warrior River, ending in what is now the city of Northport.
Some sections of the original road have been replaced by newer roads or reclaimed by forests.
The Prewett Slave Cemetery is one of the historic places along Byler Road. Pat Kemp on Thursday set out small white crosses to honor the people buried there. "My great-great-grandfather and my great-great-grandmother are both buried here," Kemp told the newspaper.
APR arranged the first ever ground penetrating radar survey of the slave burial site, set aside by plantation owner John Welch Prewett in the 1820’s. Len Strozier, owner of Omega Mapping Service in Fortson, Georgia found his first unmarked grave at the site within one minute.
“Right now, I see an air pocket where a body was buried in the ground,” said Strozier. “As the body is placed in the ground. If it’s not embalmed, or protected with a vault, it all breaks down, It degrades…decomposes—including the wooden casket.”
Within a half hour of this preliminary scan, he found forty.
Kemp, the president of the Prewitt Slave Cemetery Association, said a recent effort by anthropology students from the University of Alabama had discovered 815 to 900 graves in the cemetery that was previously believed to have only held about 300 to 400 graves.
"We really are looking back at this portion of our state's history and all the historic things that have happened and the people who lived along this trail in order to move forward and try to help ourself economically," House member Tracy Estes, R-Winfield, said.