A brief history of Lincoln Cemetery
Lincoln was established in 1926 by Reginald H. Sumner who was the owner of Sumner Marble and Granite Inc.. Sumner also owned the neighboring cemetery Royal Palm. Between August 1926 and October 1927 Arch Royal Funeral Home and Wilhelm Funeral Home removed eighty-six unknown individuals from Moffett Cemetery, which dates back to the year 1888, to Lincoln Cemetery according to Pinellas Genealogy Society, report done in 2006. According to records the first funeral took place on February 4, 1926 for 19-year-old John Peterson.
In 1957, the cemetery was transferred from Sumner Marble and Granite Inc., to McRae Funeral Home. In 1958 approximately 150 bodies were moved from Moffett Cemetery to Lincoln Cemetery by McRae Funeral home. Many of these bodies had no identity. There are three civil war veterans that are known to be buried in the Lincoln Cemetery, their names are:
Record keeping over the years was not complete so only some of the burial dates may have been provided. In addition to this, many records were lost in a fire at McRae Funeral Home. In 1974 the cemetery was resold to Sumner Marble and Granite who changed the company name to Lincoln Cemetery Inc. in November 2009. They maintained ownership of the property until it was purchased by Lincoln Cemetery Society Inc. in February 2017. Within that period the cemetery management and perpetual care fund of $109,000 was transferred to a Non Profit Company Lincoln Cemetery Memorial Park Corp., but unfortunately this was a short lived effort as the property went into disarray, the perpetual care fund was exhausted, and the Non Profit that had been established to oversee the care of the property had folded. Liens in the amount of $31,788.26 have been placed on the property starting in 2012 and only stopped after Lincoln Cemetery Society President Vanessa Gray requested that the City of Gulfport stop maintaining the grounds now that the society was taking care of that task in the summer of 2016.
Unfortunately, there are still unknown identities buried in the Lincoln Cemetery, many of the individuals buried have lost, damaged, or never did have, headstones. 5,407 bodies were known to be buried in the Lincoln Cemetery in March 2001. (Pinellas Genealogy Society, 2006)
Unraveling the mysteries at a place of final rest
Who is buried in what was once the main cemetery for the city's African-Americans? Civil rights leaders, educators, soldiers, developers.
By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
Published April 12, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - Almost forgotten, the remains of three African-American Civil War veterans rest in a west St. Petersburg cemetery.
Now their names will be remembered and their stories perhaps researched further, thanks to a massive volume recently released by the Pinellas Genealogy Society.
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.''
In Sarasota and elsewhere, Emma Booker's legacy lives
Three Schools in Sarasota are named after Emma Booker.
Her legacy has survived for decades, but her final resting place was lost to history.
It was recently discovered in Pinellas County.
By Holly Gregory, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012
SARASOTA -- She was an early pioneer for equality in education in Central Florida. Three schools in Sarasota are named after Emma Booker. Her legacy has survived for decades, but her final resting place was lost to history. Until it was recently discovered in Pinellas County.
It was during the 1920s that Booker almost single-handedly created a school system for black children in Sarasota. Because they lacked a building of their own, Booker would walk through the streets ringing a bell to call the children to makeshift classrooms. The teachers at Emma Booker High School today are very aware of Booker's legacy.
"I could almost visualize as I was reading her walking down the street with this long wooden-handle bell ringing it and all the kids following her," teacher Claudia King said. "It was amazing, an inspiration, and that is what all teachers attempt to do."
Because of her race, Booker was many times denied an education beyond the eighth grade. Florida law prohibited white teachers from teaching black students. It was punishable by up to six years in jail. Still, Booker pushed on, furthering her own education any way should could.
In 1925, she also succeeded in building a school in Sarasota. Black children for miles around would walk to the only school that would teach them. Something that is hard for students at Emma Booker High School today to relate to.
"I learned that students would walk all the way from Myake and Tallevast just to go to the school," said Treyvon Thomas, a junior at the high school.
Booker moved to St. Petersburg in 1937 to become principal at Davis Elementary. Despite the school's lack of resources, learning flourished under Booker's guidance at the all-African American school. She taught her students that an education would help them rise above racial discrimination. It was in the same year she arrived in St. Petersburg that Booker finally earned her college degree. She was 51 years old. It had taken her 20 years.
Booker passed away two years later. Her legacy survived, but her final resting place was lost and forgotten. Then, last summer, it was discovered. A cleanup of Lincoln Cemetery, for many years the only place African Americans could be buried in Pinellas County, uncovered the grave of Emma Booker. It was overgrown and cracked. The word "rest," for "rest in peace," is misspelled - a lasting injustice on a teacher's grave.
"To see this woman who was a pioneer, and to see the grave in such a terrible state of affairs, I thought it was an opportunity to try to right some of the wrongs of the past," said Cindy Weatherby, a genealogist who has studied Booker's life.
Weatherby says Booker dedicated her life to pushing past racial barriers to education, long before the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s.
"Here is a woman in a little one-room schoolhouse, and the children are sitting on orange crates for desks," Weatherby said. "An administrator told her that no Negro needs an education beyond that point. She fought against that her whole life."
Weatherby would like to see Booker's grave marked with a new stone. The principal at Emma Booker High School is trying to raise money for a more fitting grave marker for Booker.
THE CITY OF GULFPORT, FLORIDA.
City of Tarpon Springs, Florida - Excerpt from: STAFF REPORT
August 11, 2016
TO: MAYOR & BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
FROM: PLANNING AND ZONING DEPARTMENT
HEARING DATES: AUGUST 1, 2016 (HERITAGE PRESERVATION BOARD)
AUGUST 16, 2016 (BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS) 2ND READING
- Starting From Page 7
RESOLUTION NO. 2016-56 A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY OF GULFPORT, FLORIDA, TO CONTINUE OBSERVING THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF LINCOLN CEMETERY; ACKNOWLEDGING ENDEAVORS BY COMMUNITY PARTNERS FOR THE PRESERVATION OF LINCOLN CEMETERY; AND PROVIDING FOR AN EFFECTIVE DATE.
Whereas, Lincoln Cemetery (established in 1926 and located within the City of Gulfport, Florida) is an historically significant African-American Cemetery and one of only a few places in Pinellas County, Florida where African-Americans could be laid to rest due to segregation laws of the era, and
Whereas, the City of Gulfport continues to acknowledge the historical significance of Lincoln Cemeteryy, as well as the time and events that reflect the segregation history of this country and how far we have come in the quest for social justice and civil rights for all people, and
Whereas, the City of Gulfport recognizes there are approximately 6,000 African Americans that have been laid to rest in Lincoln Cemetery, including infants and young children, mothers and fathers, and people that lived and worked in our community, and Whereas, Lincoln Cemetery is the resting place for individuals transferred from the Moffett (a.k.a Evergreen) Cemetery, many without headstones, others with the statement "removed from Evergreen Cemetery" entered in burial journals, and
Whereas, over 1,000 American Armed Forces veterans have been laid to rest in Lincoln Cemetery, who honorably served during the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict and in Vietnam; including
John Lasker (known as the “Sable Arm”) a Civil War veteran who served with the 14th North Carolina Colored Heavy Artillery, and
Whereas, Lincoln Cemetery a place where many of Pinellas County’s African-American leaders are laid to rest, including; •
Emma E. Booker (teacher and educational leader, who was commemorated by having three schools named in her honor) •
William Booher (teacher and coach) and
Thelma Booher (librarian and storyteller) •
Lewis Dominis (educator and artist) •
Annie “Ann” Gore-Quinn (St. Petersburg Senior Hall of Fame, community activist) •
Lillie Green (“Raised Everybody”, lived to the age of 103) •
Cora Higgens (Melrose School teacher, earned three degrees, including one from Florida A& M)
Fannye Ayer Ponder (First president of the Metropolitan Council of Negro Women, Inc.)
Walter Postell (50 years at the Princess Martha Hotel, Head Bellman)
Terence Wimbish and
Dr. Ralph Wimbish (Lawyer and Civil Rights Leaders)
Elder Jordon, Sr. (former slave, prominent businessman, donated 26 acres to the City of St. Petersburg, now the site of the Jordon Park Complex)
Along with many others, and Whereas, the City of Gulfport supports the future preservation of Lincoln Cemetery through the collaborative efforts of sectarian and non-sectarian community groups and partners, and Whereas, the City of Gulfport has been maintaining Lincoln Cemetery as provided for within Florida Statutes 497.284.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF GULFPORT, FLORIDA: Section 1. That it is appropriate to continue to honor those who have been laid to rest in Lincoln Cemetery, and that the City of Gulfport and its residents have, and in the years to come, will keep a watchful eye over Lincoln Cemetery, honoring all those interned there.
Section 2. This resolution shall become effective upon its adoption. PASSED AND ADOPTED this 2nd day of August, 2016 by the Council of the City of Gulfport, Florida.
Samuel Henderson, Mayor
ATTEST: Lesley DeMuth, City Clerk