African-American gravesite are victims of neglect

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tags: Black History, PRESERVATION

In late February, Raphael Morris pulled his car onto the gravel path just off St. Louis Avenue in northern St. Louis County, and saw something he’d hoped was a thing of the past: a large pile of garbage dumped in Greenwood Cemetery, near where he grew up and where several family members are buried. Morris is president of the Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association and has been working to restore the African-American cemetery that dates back to the Reconstruction era. A day later, the worn mattresses and rusted exercise bike were just another trouble spot across Greenwood’s 32 acres. The dozen or so acres visible from the road are well maintained, even manicured; but further down the hilly sloping site, the landscape loses focus, growing ragged, almost feral, the headstones crumbling into the earth as nature reasserts itself. Here the cemetery is so overgrown that it’s largely inaccessible.

“My emotions are always like this … ,” Morris tells me, motioning with his hand up and down, a rollercoaster of hope at seeing this jewel of St. Louis history being slowly repaired, and despair at realizing how much remains to be done. In the rear section of the cemetery, we see wood planks, innumerable plastic bags and bottles, a TV, and a black wig partially ground into the dirt. We see a lot of tires, too, but Morris and Etta Daniels, the preservation association’s historian, have plans for these: they’ll incorporate them into the landscape as flower planters. Neither of them, both well into retirement age, have ever caught anyone dumping there. “I’m so glad,” says Daniels, who is lithe, self-assured, stern when there’s a point to be made. “I’d be in jail.”

Read entire article at Places Journal

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