Warm Springs MB Church in Crystal Springs, MS
Local officials, therefore, could do nothing until the landowner’s changed their minds or the family obtained a permanent easement. This task fell to Mt. Zion Memorial Fund director Skip Henderson, who had recently moved from Greenville, Mississippi, to New Orleans, Louisiana. He arrived just in time to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath of which consumed much of his energy. Once he settled back into his home in the Bywater district, he sent out several press releases, attempting to attract the interest of someone and asking why the headstone remained in the public library. He listed the names and contact information of everyone in local governance, some of whom had allegedly tried to broker a deal in which the landowners would sell the blues singers’ descendants the easement to the cemetery.
The niece of Tommy Johnson also attended meetings of the county board of supervisors and promoted her cause. After the attorney general decided that local officials had no power to reconstitute the road without the landowner’s consent, a stalemate developed. The musician’s descendants and others hurled baseless accusations at everyone in municipal (Crystal Springs) and (Copiah) county governance. The problem was not local officials so much as it was the absentee landlord who lacked sympathy for the descendants of the former congregants of Warm Springs CME Church.
The situation remained unchanged for the next ten years. Former Jackson city councilor Marcia Weaver had the state recognize the historical significance of the cemetery, yet she did not obtain legal access to the site. Different attorneys met with the county board of supervisors on behalf of the family, but none of them negotiated for access to the site.
Several county supervisors made the most serious attempt to bring about a positive resolution. Considering that even taking the easement via eminent domain required that the landowners receive fair compensation for their property, the board of supervisors decided to apply for a $50,000 grant available through the Mississippi Development Association (MDA). The grant provided enough money to purchase the easement as well as develop Warm Springs Cemetery as a blues trail destination, and the MDA awarded it for that specific purpose.
Collins refused to accept the grant, however, if any money went to the landowners. Convinced that other stakeholders in Copiah County would benefit monetarily, she killed the grant. She was not going to allow any other person to profit from the blues legacy of her uncle.
To relocate the five-hundred-pound headstone of Tommy Johnson, which had resided for the past decade in the Crystal Springs Public Library, the Tommy Johnson Blues Foundation hired someone local to relocate it in October 2012. Engraver and stone mason Alan Orlicek designed the tall headstone for a simple burial installation (i.e. the six foot tall stone needed to be stuck in the ground at least two feet), but this did not occur.
In February 2013, according to a sheriff’s report, the headstone “fell over by wind or accident and broke” off the top portion, which featured an engraved portrait of the only known picture of the blues singer. The report also noted that “there were no marks to indicate that it was hit with a hammer or any type blunt instrument.” While stating that they “didn’t find anything to indicate foul play,” the investigating deputies did report the theft of an estimated $1,620 dollars in fencing supplies from the site.
It is, therefore, possible that the alleged thieves also pushed over the tall headstone, which, according to most sources, “was improperly mounted on slab pins too small and too short.” The marker was poorly attached to a concrete slab with only two small pieces of rebar, which all but assured its broken fate.
Towards a Conclusion
The broken five-hundred-pound headstone sits underneath a large white oak on the periphery of the burial ground. The actual grave of Tommy Johnson, however, according to his younger brother, Mager Johnson, is located at the foot of a cedar tree behind the church. Warm Springs CME Church Cemetery was abandoned after 1969, the most recent date of death on a grave marker. The secluded church and burial ground subsequently became a lover’s lane, as evidenced by liquor bottles and pull-top beer cans piled along an old wagon road. Unidentified people purportedly burned the church in the 1970s. All that remains is a vacant power meter box and sheet metal. The forested burial ground behind the church contains only two cedar trees, both of which sit at the epicenter of many graves, or in the middle of Warm Springs Cemetery.