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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

AFRO-AMERICAN FOLK GRAVE MARKERS


On a slightly inclined hill, spotted with mature cedars there is an Afro-American cemetery that has existed since shortly after the Civil War.


Claiming several acres near the historic town of Lancaster, Kentucky, it is a cemetery that holds past citizens of the local black community. There is not an official name posted at the cemetery entrance. 
Cabal Marritt Junior

Cabal Marritt Junior is one of the persons that looks after the care of the cemetery. His parents and past friends and relatives are buried there. I had some questions about the cemetery and called Cabal to arrange a meeting at the cemetery. 



We met on a beautiful sunny day last fall.  My main questions were about several of the grave markers that appeared to be handmade. Cabal said that he thought they were, probably made by Bobby Warren who used to run the pool hall in Lancaster. Unfortunely, Bobby died some time ago.



This spring I revisited the cemetery. When I was leaving I met a man named Jamie that told me that it was Bobby Warren that made the handmade grave markers. He said," I know because when I was young I used to help Bobby make them. We would have different molds for the shaping and then would pour cement in them." 



What I also observed about these handmade grave markers was that they had a square indentation on their face that held a hand written inscription of the name, birth and death of the individual. Over this was placed a glass pane for protection. There was some variations to this identification technique such as a tin square being used. 



The handmade grave markers are simple folk types that are part of the culture of the cemetery.



Jamie added a few more words about Bobby Warren. "Bobby didn't charge a lot for his grave markers, that way most folks could afford one. For those that couldn't pay he often just gave them one for nothing."


I thought about what Jamie had just told me. I realized that not only was there a reaching out of local community in life but also in death. 

15 comments:

  1. Those markers are so original and touching, like nothing I have ever seen before. what a contrast to cemeteries like Forest Lawn! Or even the very nice cemetery in Calif. where my mother is buried.
    The Big Island of Hawaii has many small graveyards and family graveyards for the diverse groups that settled here, and there is a large (and expanding) cemetery near our house that is kept colorful with flowers and wreaths provided by three very old sisters who have a shop downtown. I notice that they have some younger helpers now, thank goodness, so this custom should persist.
    You inspire me to take some photos of these cemeteries, at least, a maybe write a piece on cemeteries on the Big Island. Perhaps the most interesting one is at Kapoho, a town that was overrun by lava in the 60's: some of the graveyard was destroyed, but some of it remains. This settlement was Japanese and Portuguese, so the grave markers are in the two different styles favored by these groups. About ten years ago I picked up a pair of coconuts there and threw them on the lawn at home; they sprouted, grew, and I now have two towering coconut trees full of coconuts!
    So much to say. I will at least get some pnotos! This would be such a good project for a serious academic. I'm sure some people have worked on this, so I'm going to look around, now that you have inspired me.

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    1. Hattie -- you have a treasure chest of cemetery information on your island. It would be fascinating to read about them. Accompanying photos would be wonderful too. There is so much uncontaminated culture surrounding us we almost miss seeing it. Glad you stopped by -- barbara

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  2. Oh... there are stories here. Interesting.

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    1. Birdman -- Yes, there are many stories here. Cemeteries can be fascinating places. thanks -- barbara

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    1. Kay -- I took my young teenage granddaughter there and she was absolutely fascinated with the history of the place. Can you imagine a teenager finding interest in a cemetery! thanks for stopping by -- barbara

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    2. Yes, I can our kids inherited their dad's (a college history major) and my interest in history. They joked that if I saw a road marker for an historic site, they knew the car was going to stop. When my son and his family visited a few years ago, he asked if the canal boat was still in operation at Lock Four (Ohio-Erie Canal) in a small town NW of us) so the tradition is alive and well for my grandsons.

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    3. Kay -- nice that you have history minds going in your family. Perhaps a bit of it bounced over to politics in your case. Always enjoy your political comments. -- barbara

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    4. What kind words!!! My dad went to school in a one room school house and instead of doing his work, he started raising his hand during the 3rd graders (he was in 2nd) and answering questions correctly so it runs in the family. I'll bet my son is having fun down in Kentucky where he now lives. He coaches at the University of the Cumberlands and lives in London. My history major daughter daughter lives on the coast in Maine so there's lots of history for her, too. I'm hoping to do some wandering in Ohio when I feel better and hope to do some more Ohio history at my place. Politics is just more history. I'm wondering how the current lot of politicians will be judged by history.

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    5. Kay -- your children are all tucked away in academia. Your father's hand raising paid off for you and your children. The Maine coast sounds fantastic -- hope you get to visit her sometime -- and also wander through Ohio. -- barbara

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  5. I love old cemeteries, especially those with "homemade" markers. These provide an interesting history. Whenever I travel I like to visit them, and get a feel for the history of the place. It's good that you are honoring them with your post.

    I like your header photo of the row-houses.

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    1. Teresa -- thanks for the nice comment. -- the header photo was taken in one of the most architecturally authentic places I have ever visited. Everything is original and is still a working town. Difficult to describe -- barbara

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  6. Greetings from Maryland - - I was very excited to luck upon your blog today. As always, one link leads to another. We are so grateful for "Junior" for continuing to take care of the cemetary after all these years. I am the great grandaughter of Sophie Owens who lived to be 100 and is buried at the cemetary. I am the daughter of Jean Scroggins Anderson (grandaughter of Sophie Owens). I was actually researching information on my paternal side and find information on my maternal side, very ironic. Junior's mother was a teacher and taught my father "Vick" Anderson. Thank you for the blog on this historical cemetary.

    Nora

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    1. How fascinating to have a visit from you in Maryland to tell us something about your relatives buried in this cemetery. Hope you have had the opportunity to visit the cemetery as it holds so much history. According to a former student of Junior's mother -- she was not only a teacher but became the principal. The school was the last segregated school in Lancaster and was dissolved in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. Eventually it was taken down and new homes were built for the community. I'll mention your relatives next time I am in contact with Cabal. Thanks for your comment -- barbara

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