Lincoln Cemetery and slavery

Chico Cromartie

Dear Editor,

As many of you know, Lincoln Cemetery continues to be a concern for local residents. The historically black cemetery located in Gulfport is the final resting place for over 6,000 African-American men, woman and children, many of whom were born into slavery.

The unsightly condition of the cemetery has prompted many local residents to take matters into their own hands with regards to the cleanup and maintenance. With decades of neglect, the cemetery had become a haven for the homeless who find refuge amongst the overgrown foliage and dilapidated headstones.

Today, however, we see the efforts of local residents who have dedicated their time and personal resources to the cleanup and preservation of Lincoln Cemetery; although, much more work has to be done.

The importance of Lincoln Cemetery to the history of this county and the United States as a whole cannot be overstated. It remains a remnant of U.S. slavery, Jim Crow and segregation in the south.

For local African-American residents, the cemetery is not only the final resting place of family, friends and loved ones, but it is also a reminder of the struggle and sacrifice of the enslaved in their quest for freedom and equality. For this reason, local African Americans feel a deep sense of connection to Lincoln Cemetery.

History tells us that the task of burying a slave duly laid on the family and friends of the deceased. During U.S. slavery, burial and mourning of the loss of a fellow slave or loved one, was usually held at night or on Sundays, as not to interfere with work hours, depending on the manner of death and the whims of the slave owner.

The burial process is historically very important to African Americans. During slavery, it was looked upon as a way of humanizing and celebrating the “freedom” of a fellow slave. Death itself was considered freedom for many of the enslaved because the pain of living was, in most cases, so brutal.

By many accounts of former slaves, which can be found online in the Library of Congress archives (loc.gov), it was not uncommon to see fellow slaves “starved to death, worked to death, whipped to death, burned to death, beat to death, shot to death, ran to death, choked to death, kicked and chained to death.”

Lincoln Cemetery is also home to African-American doctors, teachers, clergyman, business owners, domestics, nurses, mothers, fathers, children and veterans who fought in every major American war/ conflict since the Civil War. The African Americans buried in Lincoln, though diverse in backgrounds and professions, have one thing in common: they all called Pinellas County home, particularly St. Petersburg, at some point in their lives.

The pride local African Americans feel with respect to Lincoln Cemetery can be seen in the tears of visiting relatives and the devotion of local volunteers who work tirelessly try to keep it clean of debris and vandalism.

Chico Cromartie

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