Yamona Pierce talks about her family's history with Pierce Chapel African Cemetery.

Two men hold rakes in a forested scene.

Volunteer clean-up day at Pierce Chapel African Cemetery in Midland, Ga., hosted by the Hamilton Hood Foundation.

Credit: Hamilton Hood Foundation via National Trust for Historic Preservation

When Yamona Pierce went to a small cemetery near Columbus a few years ago to locate her great-great-great grandparents’ burial sites, she wept at what she saw.

It was overgrown.

Car parts and trash had been dumped on the site.

And utility workers had run heavy construction equipment over it, destroying tombs and headstones.

“What I and my family envisioned certainly was not reflective of a final resting place for a beloved family member,” she said.

The two-acre Pierce Chapel African Cemetery in Midland holds the remains of an estimated 500 people, including those enslaved at nearby plantations.

So Pierce founded an organization to protect the cemetery, organize volunteers to clean it up and garner it attention.

And this week, it got some major attention.

On Tuesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the cemetery as one of the country’s 11 most endangered places.

“This has been an incredible journey,” said Pierce, whose phone was very busy on Tuesday. “There are many layers to preserving a pre-emancipation burial site.”

She worked with the land’s private owner to haul away trash and debris, start regular mowing of the property and hire archaeologists to study what’s there.

She got the utility companies to remove power and cable lines that ran through the site, although she says they still need to address “harm done and history lost.”

Recognition by the Trust highlights the work of her organization, the Hamilton Hood Foundation, and the ongoing deterioration that the cemetery still faces.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” she said. “This is bittersweet.”

The Trust’s listing puts Pierce Chapel among the likes of other endangered historic sites, such as Charleston’s Historic District and Seattle’s Chinatown.

The national group has been naming endangered places every year since 1988.