The members of St. John’s Baptist Church in Cayce thought the days of their church being vandalized and destroyed were over; so it was heartbreaking for them when they discovered someone had turned over and destroyed tombstones of family members.
Deacon Delores Weston said when she arrived at the church Dec. 17 , which is tucked quietly away in the Dixiana area, she immediately noticed something was different. That’s when she saw what had been done to the cemetery.
“My mother’s grave was smashed and broken up, and my sister-in-law’s grave, which is Deacon Simmon’s wife, was smashed up,” Weston said. “We are back in the woods. We are not on the main road. It’s somebody who knows where the church is and where the cemetery is.”
According to an incident report filed with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, 14 tombstones were damaged by being turned over, while two tombstones were broken in half. The total damage estimated by the Sheriff’s Department was $7,500.
Now, the congregation of only 30 is faced with the task of fixing the damaged grave markers.
“We are not a people with a lot of money, and it took time and money to put those tombstones there,” the Rev. Patricia Lowman said. “We thought it was over.”
According to Lowman, the members celebrated the church’s 279th anniversary in August, making it one of the oldest churches in the area that is still standing. But, that’s not to say it has had an easy time doing so.
In the mid-1980s, St. John’s was among many churches throughout the state that were the target of racial discrimination and was destroyed by alleged Ku Klux Klan sympathizers. But, the members rebuilt their church.
Then in 1995, three teenagers burned the church to the ground again, and the members rebuilt their church. However, after that incident, many members of its congregation left, Lowman said.
Still, the members who stayed would experience still more disturbances. Lowman said once the new church was built, members had to reinstall plexiglass windows because people kept shattering them.
“Each time it got worse, and it got worse and it got worse,” Lowman said. “It’s been a long, drawn-out battle.”
Charles Hopkins, 19, an usher and head of the youth choir, said his grandmother’s tombstone was one of those that was turned over.
“When I first heard about the graves being turned over I thought, ‘Why would someone go out of their way just to knock over some graves?’” Hopkins said. “When I looked at them I knew how heavy they were, and I went over to my grandmother’s grave, it was turned over.”
Hopkins said he asked if he and his younger brother Carlton, 17, who is also an usher and also a leader of the youth choir, could help turn some of the tombstones that had not been damaged upright again. But, because of the weight of the stones, they were told to wait for someone with the right equipment to resurrect them.
“But, I had to pick up grandma’s grave. I had to pick it up,” Hopkins said. “I hope it stops and it comes to an end. Why would someone want to pick on people who have been through a lot already?”
However, Deacon Willie Simmons said he has already forgiven those responsible for disrupting the resting place of his loved ones.
Simmons, a chairman of the deacon’s board, said his wife’s tombstone was broken in half and his mother’s was pushed over, but thankfully, not broken.
“It makes you feel so far down, but you have to keep going on and not stop,” Simmons said.
Robert Dewitt, a member of the church for four years, said he, too, has forgiven the culprits. He knows the only thing the church members can do is to go forward and not look on past transgressions.
“Always forgive those that try to harm you. God will take care of the rest,” Dewitt said.