Bright Star Church Road with cemetery to remain open for now

Published 1:00 pm Friday, November 5, 2021

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Bright Star Church Road, a dead-end county road bordering Troup County and Harris County, is still open and public for now, much to the relief of many people who have relatives buried in a small cemetery on the road.

A decision to privatize the road, per a request made last month by a property owner who has land in the area, cannot be made because the true owner of the cemetery remains a mystery.

The property owner previously inquired to the Troup County Board of Commissioners to “abandon” Bright Star Church Road, a dead-end county road located just outside of Pine Mountain.

The land owner told the commission he wants to privatize the road to protect the land of his and other property owners as well as the cemetery, allowing land owners and family members of those who are buried in the cemetery exclusive access. However, many people who have relatives buried in the cemetery are against the idea. 

The cemetery and road itself have been subject to vandalism, dumping and uses of illegal purposes, as noted by John McLemore, who is representing the requestee, MAC Family Farms, LLC. ATV riders also use the road. The property owner proposed that an access of easement be allowed on the entrance of the road, as state laws require an access of easement into any cemetery. This access would come in the form of a code-accessible gate, to which the code will be given to family members of the cemetery. Currently, the cemetery is surrounded by a chain-link fence.

At the commission’s last meeting, there was debate as to whether the cemetery was owned by a church of the same name on Shake Rag Road. As of Monday, the county had access to documentation stating that the ownership of the cemetery in 1947 were the trustees of Brightstar Cemetery, more specifically seven individuals — Thomas Daniel, Ida Thornhill, Curtis Favors, Mable Favors, Quinny Thornhill, Robert Simpson and Dave Williams. Troup County Attorney Marc Acree said there is no indication whether they were associated with the Brightstar Church in a serving capacity.

“While we have a title opinion showing some trustees, we don’t have the trust document, which should show the successor trustee or who they should be,” Acree said. “We don’t know if there’s been notice to the successor trustee of Brightstar cemetery.”

Several area residents came forward during a public hearing the commission held Tuesday in regard to the road abandonment, the majority of who spoke against the county abandoning the road.

Dr. Willie Edmondson, a LaGrange city councilman, spoke to commissioners in place of many of his constituents, one of whom, he noted, is over 100 years old.

“His mother [and] his father are buried there,” Edmondson said.

“He has a child buried there, and a wife buried there.”

The cemetery consists of less than 100 visible graves, the majority dating as early as the late 1800s.

Edmondson said they were in “total” opposition for the abandonment, citing a history of African American cemeteries being abandoned and demolished for other means.

Edmondson, who additionally owns the Lakes-Dunson-Robertson Funeral Home in LaGrange, noted this issue first-hand through some of his clients.

“The owner has done all his due diligence to try to please everyone, but it’s not just on him, it’s for the future,” he said. “Right now, the citizens of Troup County own this road, and the county is responsible for the upkeep of this road.”

Another citizen, Mark Burrow, of College Park, also spoke against the road privatization.

“We’re asking you to not to not give access [family members] to that road,” he said.

With Burrow had with him his 91-year-old mother, Idell Burrow, whose parents are buried in the cemetery.  She also has several other family members buried there too, many of whom are from the Thornhill family, she said.

“My whole family’s there, so I’m begging you, please don’t close the road, think about if it was your family,” she said.

John Parkman, the pastor of Bright Star Church on Shake Rag Road for the last 18 years, said his church still uses the cemetery for burial and wants to keep the road open for the families.

“I understand that there’s illegal activities going on at the road because it’s going on at Brightstar Church … but we need more sheriff activity to protect this area and prevent the vandalism,” he said.

One resident, John Carter, who lives immediately south of the road, supported the abandonment proposal.

“I am 100% in favor of abandonment of this road for the McLemore family,” he wrote in a letter sent to the commission. “There have been multiple occasions where I have had to run people off from drinking and doing illegal drugs on that road, especially at the end of the road. This occasion happens almost every week. They get in their vehicles on the gravel road and speed and spin around. I have on multiple occasions, caught people trying to dump debris on Mr. McLemore’s property. I have also heard shots being fired but did not personally see that. In my opinion, it would be a lot safer for the community to condemn that road and allow just family members the right of way to the cemetery.”

Other residents who were against the road being privatized sent letters to the county, expressing that they use the road for ATV riding.