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.

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