AfriGeneas States Research Forum
[FL] Lincoln Cemetery Book released
Unraveling the mysteries at a place of final rest
Titled simply Lincoln Cemetery, the 600-page book examines in detail the cemetery that served as the main burial ground for St. Petersburg's people of color from 1926, the year it opened, through the segregation era and beyond. There are occasional burials there today.
"I think it will be a good reference for people interested in doing research,'' said Norman Jones II, a St. Petersburg resident who devotes most of his time to African-American history.
The book is the result of five years of work by a team of society researchers.
The team looked at grave sites, examined burial records and found old newspaper articles to compile the book, which is the latest of several the society has published about Pinellas County cemeteries.
Civil War veterans are interred in several of them.
The three soldiers in Lincoln Cemetery represent rediscovered sites, although their presence has not gone entirely unnoted.
They were identified as Joseph Brownlow, John Lasker and John W. Sharter.
Mystery about them remains.
Who were they and why were they here?
The remains of Sharter and Brownlow were removed in 1958 from the early-day Moffett Cemetery, now long gone from its Fifth Avenue S site, just west of where Tropicana Field now stands. They were reinterred in Lincoln.
The two were among about 150 reinterments from Moffett to Lincoln in 1958, according to the society's brief history of the cemetery. Many remains were unidentified. Another 86 "unknown individuals'' were moved from Moffett to Lincoln between 1926 and 1927, according to the history.
A 1958 Times story included comments from Sharter's great-grandson, Eugene Sharter. He said his great-grandfather also served in the Spanish-American War and ran a cafe downtown.
The old soldier died in 1923 from a war wound, his great-grandson said.
The newspaper article said Sharter and Brownlow served in the Confederate army. African-Americans did wear the gray, but it is not certain that Sharter and Brownlow did, as the article asserted.
Sharter was said to be a member of the 3rd Confederate Infantry. Such a unit existed, but there was also a unit designated the 3rd United States Colored Troops.
No Sharters appear in early city directories. But a 1908 directory lists a John W. Shorter, identifying him as an African-American retiree living at 209 11th St. S.
Brownlow rode with the 2nd Florida Cavalry, which was a Confederate regimental designation. But there also was a 2nd Florida Cavalry attached to Union forces.
Lasker is said to have served with the 1st North Carolina Colored Infantry, a Union outfit. But a copy of his pension record in the society's book says he was also known as "Rebel John.''
Scholars and storytellers should have a gold mine to explore and uncertainties to clarify.
The book lists more than 5,000 Lincoln grave sites and tells how to find them.
It also contains several hundred obituaries and about a dozen newspaper articles about African-American leaders buried in Lincoln.
"Cemeteries are a way to get dates and a foothold into the past,'' said Marta Jones, 37, an anthropology student who has specialized in African-American cemeteries.
The list of graves in Lincoln is a who's who of the African-American community.
Among the people buried there are civil rights leaders Ralph Wimbish and Robert Swain. Pioneer developers Elder Jordan Sr. and Elder Jordan Jr. are also there. So is Fannye Ayer Ponder, an educator who in a single night sold $85,000 in U.S. World War II bonds.
Chester James Sr., an activist for whom the Jamestown neighborhood is named, is alongside his wife, Rachel, who founded the city's first African-American private school.
Other lesser known but influential people share the cemetery, which can be entered from 600 58th St. S.
Among them are Mary Louise McRae, believed to be the first female funeral director in Pinellas; Thelma Booher, a school librarian known as "the story lady''; and Walter Postell, the head bellman at the Princess Martha Hotel for a half century.
Many graves have no headstones, including those of the Jordans.
Renewed interest in Lincoln Cemetery is important, said Jacquie Small, who is on the board of the Carter G. Woodson African-American History Museum.
"It means a lot because when I was a little girl, the Lincoln Cemetery was the only place we could be buried,'' Small said.
Sumner Marble and Granite Works, the owner of record, keeps the cemetery records and hires a company to mow.
Susan Alford, Sumner's president, said the cemetery's future is uncertain.
"It's considered closed," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen. I had hopes one of the churches might take over the books so people could locate a grave.''
For information about the book, visit the Pinellas Genealogy Society at www.rootsweb.com/~flpgs.