MOORHEAD, Iowa (KCAU) — Tucked away in the southern part of the Loess Hills, nestled in between miles of farmland north of the sleepy town of Moorhead, is a piece of history that indicates who some of the first black settlers in Iowa were.
Chair of Monona County’s Historic Preservation Commission Judy Ehlers says she’s been curious about the cemetery’s origins for more than 50 years and through hours of research has uncovered some answers.
“The cemetery actually started in 1882 when Adam Miers donated the land for the cemetery when his mother passed away,” said Ehlers.
Miers’ mother Mariah’s tombstone and others are still visible, and Ehlers says there’s twenty graves in total with pink and blue flags indicating the peoples’ gender. Not much else is known about the buried besides their names in census records and that they helped Miers settle and farm the land, but one December day, Ehlers received a phone call.
“I happened to get a chance to talk to a fellow who his grandparents are buried at the cemetery there,” said Ehlers.
Ehlers says the man on the phone — from nearby Pilger, Nebraska — was able to tell her how his family ended up in Iowa after the civil war was over.
“The people that were coming were from Ohio and they originally had come from Virginia and they had left a plantation owner…and he gave them the choice, they could either stay with him or they could go and so when Adam came along, they decided that they would follow Adam to this part of the country,” said Ehlers.
Through a process that lasted more than three years, Ehlers and others helped place the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places last March. Once known as the Black Cemetery, Ehlers says its one of only two known in the state and says its important to her to honor the special place.
“I think they need to be honored and remembered, not let people just drive over it, farm over it, or whatever’s gonna happen down the road. So if we’ve got it there, and we’ve got the sign that says it’s on the National Registry, that won’t happen,” said Ehlers.
Ehlers says the next mission of the Monona County Historic Preservation is to raise funds for signs that will direct travelers to the historical site of South Jordan Cemetery.
Interested in more Black History Month content? The full Black History Month Special can be found here.