Community volunteers joined Myrtle Beach city staff members recently at a little-known cemetery off Oak Street, adjacent to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. It may not be visible from the street, but it pre-dates everything nearby.
The Neighborhood Services Department is leading the effort to maintain and restore the hidden cemetery and, hopefully, identify some of the unmarked graves. For that, local families will need to revisit their memories.
Local historians recall that the cemetery began when a few graves were relocated to Oak Street from the Withers Swash area in the mid-1930s. Currently, the oldest known grave dates back seventy-seven years.
The deed for the largely African-American cemetery was given to the city in 1992. In 2010, the city used ground-penetrating radar to survey the cemetery. Of the two hundred forty-three grave sites identified then, only 128 were marked with individual or family names. For the other 115, small granite markers were placed which read, “Known unto God.”
The cemetery is still in use, although sparingly. A few modern burials have occurred, although many of the graves date to the 1960s and 1970s. They include a number of veterans from World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. Chapter 30 of the Disabled American Veterans placed a marker at the cemetery entrance in 1986.
A concrete angel graces one of the burial sites, while artificial flowers keep company with others who are resting in peace. It’s amazing how quiet and peaceful the tree-filled cemetery is, so near busy 21st Avenue North.
Two dozen people converged on the cemetery one recent Saturday to rake away leaves and tidy up the grounds. The smaller, unnamed markers were uncovered, too. At least one family recalled where two of their loved ones were buried.
The restoration effort continues. We are calling on long-time residents and community members from the Booker T. Washington, Carrie Mae Johnson, Harlem, Racepath and Pine Island neighborhoods. Do you have family photos of a burial service at the Oak Street cemetery? Funeral home memorabilia about a burial also would be helpful. If you have any information that may help, please contact Myrtle Beach’s Neighborhood Services Department at 843-918-1061.
This quiet corner of Myrtle Beach’s history is tucked away in the protective shadow of the Convention Center. The city’s goal is to bring its memory to the forefront again and honor some of the area’s earliest citizens.