St. Louis recognizes community organization for cleaning up historic African-American cemetery

HILLSDALE, MO - It is one of the oldest African-American Cemeteries in the St. Louis area but years of neglect left it unrecognizable.  A group of volunteers stepped in to form the Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association.

 

The group has spent the last 2 years clearing brush and cutting grass at the Hillsdale cemetery.  The association now owns the property and is determined to preserve its rich history.

 

“You can’t walk ten feet without being surrounded by history in this cemetery,” said Raphael Morris, Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association President.

 

Harriet Robinson Scott is buried at the cemetery.  She was a slave and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case involving her husband, Dred Scott.

 

“We’ve had people from everywhere come and want to walk the grounds and then either look for historical people or look for loved ones,” said Morris.

 

The efforts by the association were recognized by St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger Sunday.  He presented the association with a plaque declaring February 25th, 2018 as, “Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association Day.”

 

“I think it’s really important to come out today and recognize the work of these citizens who wanted to restore beauty to this historic place and really restore some dignity and honor to the individuals buried here,” Stenger said.

 

Morris said the association has worked hard and spent its own money on the cleanup effort.

 

“This is no joke out here.  This is some serious, serious work but we’re dedicated and committed to the completion of this project,” said Morris.

 

Association member Brad Bilyeu also lives in the neighborhood.  He got involved in order to help restore the cemetery’s history and to improve the area where he lives.

 

“You could stand on the sidewalk and you couldn’t see a stone in the cemetery,” he said. “If you were standing in the cemetery you couldn’t even see, you had to look up in the trees to kind of see where you were at in the cemetery. That’s how bad the overgrowth was.”

 

Association member Rufus Shannon said the cemetery is a final resting place for veterans including Buffalo Soldiers, World War I, World War II and Vietnam veterans.

 

“There’s so much history, tens of thousands of people here,” said Shannon.

 

The cemetery is nearly 32 acres in size and is the final resting place for some 50,000 people.   The association has cleared about a third of the property and continues to look for volunteers and donations