Mt. Zion founder Skip Henderson Steps Down,
Appoints Strategist Who Opened
Warm Springs Cemetery
Skip Henderson, the enthusiastic founder and longtime director of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, whose unflinching sense of purpose attracted the support of popular musicians as well as major record labels, and important rock journalists, decided in January 2014 to step down and hand the reigns over to T. DeWayne Moore, a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Mississippi who successfully cleared the legal roadblocks surrounding access to Warm Springs Cemetery in Copiah County, the final resting place of country blues singer Tommy Johnson. From 2001 until the opening of Warm Springs in the fall of 2012, the Mt. Zion memorial Fund had not completed another commemoration or cemetery preservation project. Since making the decision to engage with local officials and landowners in the county that one 1830s resident of the Pine Hills dubbed, "the place of dread," the organization refused to fold its doors, yet remained stuck in a malaise--much like a sinking wagon in the once-abandoned, muddy easement to Warm Springs Cemetery.
|Skip Henderson & DeWayne Moore on|
Montague Street in New Orleans, LA - 2012
Since 2001, the Tommy Johnson Foundation had actively sought to capitalize off the historic and musical legacy of Tommy Johnson. Their efforts included soliciting the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, which intended to place a large, five hundred pound headstone on the grave of Tommy Johnson. The recent publicity surrounding the legal case over who got millions of dollars in another popular blues musician's royalties gave rise to the refusal of local landowners to allow the blues singers’ descendants access to the cemetery. For the next eight or nine years, the situation devolved into hopeless stalemate, as the musician's descendants and others hurled baseless accusations at everyone in municipal (Crystal Springs) and (Copiah) county governance. The problem, however, was not local officials so much as it was an absentee landlord who lacked sympathy for the descendants of the former congregants of Warm Springs CME Church.
In the summer of 2011, DeWayne Moore worked with UNC Chapel-Hill law professor Alfred Brophy and recent law school graduate Matthew Reid Krell, who filed suit on behalf of Johnson’s descendants, seeking a permanent easement to the cemetery. The landowners, facing a costly and potentially futile legal battle, decided to settle the case out of court and grant the descendents of those interred at the cemetery a permanent easement. Armed with legal access to the site, Moore made an appeal to the Copiah County Board of Supervisors, which had previously promised to re-establish the road to Warm Springs Cemetery, located through a forest about a half-mile off Henry Road, if the families obtained a legal easement. The easement is now marked with a road sign for the cemetery, and the forest road to the site is guarded by a fine iron gate. It's letters at the top spell out its name: Warm Springs Cemetery. The easement to the cemetery is private. It is not open to the public, only the descendants of those interred at Warm Springs Cemetery.
© T. DeWayne Moore 2016
© T. DeWayne Moore 2016