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NOTABLE WASHINGTON PARK ANCESTRY
Washington Park Cemetery, an historic African American cemetery located in Berkeley, Missouri, is in its 100th year! It is located in the city’s southern precinct and near the corner of Natural Bridge Road and James S. McDonnell Blvd. and due east of Lambert International Airport. Many news programs have reported that nearly 30 acres of the approximately 42-acre historic cemetery are in a wretched state of neglect and disrepair.
We have begun a multi-year effort to turn the cemetery into a beautiful north St. Louis County heritage site for these former St. Louisans, their families and descendants to come!
The cemetery, which is highly visible from cars on Highway 70 and airplanes landing at Lambert Airport, is the final resting place for over 42,000 people, and for many years was one of few cemeteries where the black community could bury their deceased. Revered ministers, respected educators and attorneys, noted civil rights leaders and physicians, and beloved family members are not the only ones buried at the cemetery.
Washington Park Cemetery is the final resting place for many U.S. servicemen who chose to be buried by family members and near the homes of their survivors as opposed to the rather far away Jefferson Barracks Cemetery. Veterans buried at the cemetery have served in the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. With military stones found destroyed throughout the cemetery - that once represented their devoted service in five U.S. wars - survivors are lamenting their veterans’ decisions to be buried at the deteriorating Washington Park Cemetery which has no perpetual care funds left.
We propose a plan to end the laments of these families and turn the cemetery into a landmark St. Louis will be proud of.
Before the cemetery can become a north county heritage site, a crew is needed to maintain the cemetery’s cleared 25 acres.
Washington Park Cemetery holds Heritage, Culture and Ancestry. Our goal is to not only respect and connect with our past, but to learn how to move forward into the future with living wage skills and a greater understanding. Youth and young adults working at the site are gaining practical, hands-on experience with Preservation, Landscaping and Ground Maintenance, Tree and Road Services, Geospatial Intelligence, Project Management, Civil Engineering and Ancestry and Data Tracking. With these skills we will become more familiar with protecting our heritage and mapping genealogical trees and historical research to trace the known, and unknown, aspects of our lineages. As our youth begin to identify and reconnect with this ancestral guidance and support they are gaining a sense of deep belonging.
Reconnecting with ancestry is a powerful tool that has been used by many communities, including Native Americans, survivors of the Holocaust and other genocidal tactics. Shamanic cultures have long understood that honoring ancestors is a major key to health and happiness. When we heal from trauma in our hearts and souls, we can change genetic patterns that would otherwise affect future generations.
In order for St. Louis to move forward we must heal from our past. In the currently shifting political climate, these wounds that have always existed but remained marginalized, have resurfaced inviting the opportunity for examination, reparations, amends and healing.
The effects of the historical trauma inflicted on communities because of their race, creed, and ethnicity linger on the souls of their descendants. As a result, many people in these same communities experience higher rates of mental and physical illness, substance abuse, and erosion in families and community structures. The persistent cycle of trauma destroys family and communities and threatens the vibrancy of entire cultures. But historical trauma is not just about what happened in the past. It's about what's still happening.
So many are living in a world where they are unsure where they belong or feel disconnected. Reminding them of the proximity of their origins and the gifts that were inherited from their ancestors is a powerful healing technique. It can alleviate some of the internal conflict or resentments we carry each day. These gifts, along with medicines, foods, plants and sacrifices are connected by bloodline, are birthrights and are a part of our ancestral lineage. Connecting with ancestry can provide guidance and support in our everyday lives and propel the mission to stop these traumas once and for all.
OPEN LETTER CAMPAIGN
This month we will be beginning our 𝐎𝐩𝐞𝐧 𝐋𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐂𝐚𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐢𝐠𝐧, where descendants have the opportunity to speak to the community, our local leadership and caring humanitarians about the restoration of Washington Park. Descendants will share stories of their loved ones, share their emotions regarding the situation at hand, and their hopes for the future. We welcome other descendants who share the same concern, memories, and heartbreak to also encourage those in the community to be held accountable for this ongoing desecration. If you would like to write an Open Letter, please send it to the inbox or StLouisPreservationCrew@gmail.com. The first Open Letter, written by Mrs. Sheena Chappel, is addressed to 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐂𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐲!
We are so grateful for all of the descendants who came together to discuss the future of Washington Park Cemetery. A very compassionate (and passionate!) conversation was had, and so much information was covered. We are all committed to working together to ensure the restoration and long-term preservation of Washington Park.
Please look forward to our next meeting event where we will provide more updates on the restoration progress, and the Open Letter Campaign.
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