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The History of Historically Black Geer Cemetery

The Geer Cemetery, which has also been known as City Cemetery, Old City Cemetery, East Durham, and Mason Cemetery, was started in 1876 with the burial of an 11-year-old black farm hand who was killed after being dragged by a horse on the farm of Jesse Geer. On March 28, 1877, a deed was written selling two acres of land for 50 dollars to three men, the land to be used as a burial ground for the “colored community of Orange County” (Durham County was originally part of Orange County). The three men were Willie Moore, John Daniel, and Nelson Mitchell. The deed was signed by Jesse Geer and his wife Polly. The deed stated that the land was to be used for burials and that the heirs of Moore, Daniel, and Mitchell were to be responsible for the property.

It is estimated that over 3,000 people are buried in the cemetery, which ceased to be used in 1944. Many notable black members of the Durham and North Carolina community are buried there, including Edian Markum, founder of St. Joseph’s A.M.E. Church; Margaret Faucette, founder of White Rock Baptist Church and great-grandmother of R.Kelly Bryant; and Augustus Shepard, father of North Carolina Central University founder James Shepard.

The cemetry fell into disrepair during the 1900s, and in 2003, with significant effort on the part of R. Kelly Bryant, the Friends of Geer Cemetery was formed to help clean up the abandoned and overgrown cemetery, establish title, and provide for maintenance. Several groups have worked to catalog the names of the burials in the cemetery over the years, with over 1,500 now having been identified.