BERKELEY, Mo. – After decades of neglect, major cleanup efforts begin for one historic African-American cemetery in north St. Louis County.
Volunteers spent Friday uncovering 40 years of lost history at a community graveyard. The hard work of many at Washington Park Cemetery revealed hidden gravestones and cleaned up decades of overgrown shrubs.
“This volunteer group here has done more this morning than I’ve done since 1991,” said Walter Rice, whose mother was buried at the grave site several years ago.
Volunteers from Focal Point and Right Away Landscaping cleared two acres at the cemetery, which has thousands of graves dating back to 1921.
“It was overgrown so bad when I started,” said Rice. “I used a machete to cut a path to my mother’s grave.”
Rice visits the cemetery often to clean off his mother’s grave. Dora Rice passed away in 1965 when her son was just returning from the Army.
“As long as I take care of my mother’s grave, she lives in my heart [and] my spirit,” said Rice.
Around 40,000 others are buried, some whose graves are barely recognizable. That includes World War I veterans, husbands, wives and even babies.
Craig Smith, an attorney representing the Washington Cemetery, has been working on cleanup efforts for two years.
“In 1920, if you were black, you couldn’t be buried in a white cemetery,” said Smith. “These are our teachers, our pastors of churches. They’re human beings.”
There hasn’t been any maintenance since 1966. Still, you’ll find Rice here most mornings.
With Friday’s progress, there’s more meaning to the words: “Gone, But Never Forgotten.”
“With my very soul, I appreciate this,” said Rice.
Tons of honeysuckle and other shrubbery still cover about five acres here at the site. If you want to help volunteer, you can head to the Attorney to Washing Park Cemetery or contact Craig Smith at 314-502-4465.