Sunday, October 6, 2013

Preserving African American Cemeteries

When my brothers and I were children, my mother use to take us to "Big Zion Cemetery" in Roseland, Louisiana to help her clean up the graves of her parents Jasper Harrell, Sr., and Josephine Richardson Harrell. We would cut grass and pull the wild weeds from around their graves and place fresh flowers.

Walter C. Black, Sr., for the Harrell Family
She said the headstones that were on the graves of my great-grandfather Alexander Harrell and his father Robert Harrell were made by her father Jasper Harrell, Sr., She said that she was a little girl when her father made the headstones for all of his deceased sisters, brothers and parents.

After he poured the cement to form the headstones, he told my mother not to move them until they were hard. Although my grandfather couldn't afford to purchase headstones for his deceased loved ones, he made them.  When I started conducting genealogy research on the Harrell side of my family, I had to visit several cemeteries in Amite, Louisiana and St. Helena Parish, Louisiana.

Palmer Harrell headstone made by Walter C. Black, Sr.
   I can recall the days when people took pride in maintaining the cemeteries of their deceased loved ones. Today you can find overgrown grass, abandoned, neglected cemeteries, and sunken grave pits. Ten years old my youngest son Bernard and one of my friend recorded nine African American Cemeteries in St. Helena and Tangipahoa Parishes, they are online for anyone who are researching their family history.  We found many cemeteries that need a lot of tender loving care.

Manilla McCoy Harrell headstone 
Our cemeteries hold precious memories of people we love dearly. Many cemeteries are located behind the church and some are private family cemeteries. I would like to thank my friend and colleague Walter C. Black, Sr., for making headstones for headstones for my deceased loved ones.I would like to dedicate this blog to the late Min. Kojo Livingston who wrote about these abandoned cemeteries.

 Why Are Cemeteries Abandoned?

1. Abandoned because the family has moved    
    away or "died off."
2. No budget to maintain the cemetery.
3. Un-concerned family members.
4. Ownership can't be determined by county
    or parish assessor.

Please help maintain your family cemetery. You can volunteer to cut the grass, white wash graves, replace falling headstones, and pickup any debris that is on the ground.