On SI, an African-American Cemetery is Neglected

Grave of blues singer Mamie Smith in Frederick Douglass Memorial Park (Photo by Stephon Johnson via Amsterdam News)

An African-American cemetery in Frederick Douglass Memorial Park on Staten Island, where many famous figures are interred, is in disrepair, reports Stephon Johnson in Amsterdam News.

The AmNews saw untreated grass, gravestones mashed together because of weather and land shifts, gravestones stuck between trees, barely put together graves, unpaved and decrepit roads around the premises, uneven land with dips, hills and holes that could lead to injuries and sunken graves.

The cemetery holds the graves of some of the most famous and prominent Black public figures of the 20th century, including Negro League baseball players Elias “Country Brown” Bryant and King Solomon “Sol” White, blues singer Mamie Smith, jazz trumpeter Thomas James Ladnier, tap dancer/Bill “Bonjangles” Robinson rival Eddie Rector, Commandment Keepers of the Living God founder Rabbi Wentworth Arthur Matthew, abolitionist Frederick Douglass and prominent Harlem figures.

Johnson took a tour of the cemetery with Patricia Willis, CEO of Friends of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park Inc., which is in the Richmond Hill section of Staten Island. Willis is also a plot owner.

“Back then, churches used to buy cemetery plots to bury their parishioners in,” said Willis, whose parents, aunts and uncles are buried at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park. “There are a couple of those buried there. A pastor from Mount Moriah Baptist Church is in there. That’s what it was for a long time.”

While some cenotaphs, such as that of Frederick Douglass, appear well kept, that is not the case with many of them.

Go to Amsterdam News to learn more, including a tangled tale of embezzlement and absent leadership that has left the cemetery vulnerable to further disrepair.


  1. Angela Thomas says:

    This is so upsetting for me if it is already not bad enough. How my mother’s Family and Funeral home did me and my Sister. When my Mother was buried there in 1989 we picked out a Family grave. Months later my Sister and me wanted to buy a headstone. For our Mother we was told that we couldn’t because strangers was buried on top of her. When that is not what my Sister ask for when she made the arrangements. Me and my Sister have suffered enough now we are finding out about this. Heartbroken what else.

    • it also happen to my family my mother cannot have an headstone went out there this is wrong I found broken. screenwriting on the main office wall out side birds shutting on grass beer bottles tomb stones broken every where gates broken grounds broken if I hit the lotto today I swear I would dig up my love ones in take them to nc where I live in let the sleep in peace this vision that I seen yesterday. brought. tears to my eyes I think it’s time that everyone. who has love ones buried. at fredrick. douglass cemerty. in Stan island ny come together in do something because if you ever watch the show borders the worst episode. you would no what I’m talking about let’s save this place please klf

  2. This is ridiculous. I will be getting people together to protest. Bird Shit everywhere. I mean everywhere. Brittle leaves everywhere, main building falling apart. Toppled trees on graves. Tombstones shifted. I mean what disrespect and disgust they have for peoples loved ones. This is not only sentimental but it causing pain and suffering knowing your loved ones are laying under this filth. They need to be ashamed of themselves. I will not let my loved ones go out like this. Something has to be done fast. Why does African Americans always have to be neglected. I can’t even kneel and talk to my loved ones without geese shit all on me. UNACCEPTABLE and something will be done soon. Fredrick Douglas and crooked workers you need to be ashamed of yourself.

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