CENTREVILLE, IL. (KMOX) – Volunteers are being called-on Saturday morning to help clean up an historic cemetery.
It’s the Booker T. Washington Cemetery dedicated in 1903 in Centreville Illinois near highways 163 and 157.
About 5,000 former slaves, veterans and over 500 babies that died during a flu epidemic in the 40s are buried there.
There have been attempts to restore the cemetery over the years and this time organizers are serious about restoring it.
Considered sacred ground it was a place where African Americans buried their dead before integration. Many of the tombstones are homemade.
Volunteers are asked to show up before noon. They’re asked to wear long pants and sleeves and closed toe shoes. Tools , gloves, snacks and drink will be provided.
The Booker T. Washington Cemetery was the creation of RM.C. Green, an African American undertaker. R.M.C. Green, along with his two brothers, were mortuary entrepreneurs of their time. They were the owners of Green Undertaking Company which included the Green Funeral Home. In 1902, RM.C. Green, an Edwardsville, IL resident, came to the East St. Louis area and found Centreville Station as an acceptable area to establish a Colored cemetery. On August 26, 1903 The Booker T. Washington Cemetery was dedicated. The purpose of the cemetery’s creation was to have a suitable place for African Americans to be buried. The East St. Louis Daily Journal reported, “The colored people of St. Clair County have decided to own a cemetery for the burial of their race. They claim that graves will have better care if all colored citizens are interested in a single graveyard than with several graveyards, with separate boards of managers.” Ms. Fredricka Nash of Nash Funeral Home stated that the cemetery was not elaborate with fountains and flowers and such, yet it was decent and respectable.
The cemetery was a very important place in the community for African Americans. It was a place that represented respect for us. It showed self sufficiency, practicality and economic regeneration, as a community. During
the 1917 Riots, the Green Family was instrumental in supporting the endangered African American citizens of East St. Louis. Again the cemetery was there to receive all of the thousands of men, women, children and infants
killed in the riots. As time went on, the cemetery was passed on to RM.C. Green’s son and daughter-in-law, Edgar and Gertrude Hudson Green. They were caretakers of the cemetery for decades. After desegregation, when African Americans began having an easier time getting into any cemetery they wished, the cemetery began its decline. Without the support of Perpetual Care, which became law in the 1950 s, financing the cemetery was challenging along with competition from surrounding cemeteries. It was during this time that Gertrude Hudson Green, who now operated the cemetery herself, had the vision to take the cemetery to a higher level Gertrude Hudson Green wanted the cemetery to hold an even higher place of honor for our community. Unfortunately, she
died before her vision could manifest.
Through lack of interest, and even more so, lack of knowledge to the significance of the cemetery, Booker T. Washington continued to go down into obscurity. After Gertrude Green’s death in 1973 her brother, Lee Andrew
Hudson, and long time Booker T. Washington Cemetery Caretaker, James Oldham, did their best to keep the cemetery in a functional condition, Acres had to be abandoned because of the lack of support to. care for the area which consists of approximately 8 acres. Because of their love for the community, the cemetery, and its history, the cemetery was kept up until the mid 1980’s. The Globe-Democrat in 1981 reported Lee Andrew Hudson saying. ‘When I walk through there, it’s almost like reading a history of East St. Louis. Almost every old family in this city has ancestors buried there.” As for James Oldham, Lee Andrew Hudson stated, “Oldham was out there from the beginning. When I saw he wasn’t going to give up, I just had to pitch in and help.” Both gentlemen have gone on to a better place. Like those before them, R.M.C. Green, Edgar Green, Gertrude Hudson Green, Oldham and Hudson wanted better for their people. They wanted their history – their ancestors – to be remembered.
Location: Centreville, IL, off Il, 163 Size: 8 to 12 acres
Number of Internment: 3,000 to 5,000 est.
Types of Tombstones: Upright; elaborately etched to homemade Famous Folks at R~ in The Booker T. Washington Cemetery:
Robert Coleman*Earliest Internment February 28, 1901?
R.M.C Green*Entrepreneur & Founder of the Booker T. Washington Cemetery
Horace Adams*Negro Political Boss
John Green*East St. Louis City Hall Employee of21years and Community Elder
Anthony Speed*Brooklyn’s Oldest Resident in 1954 &
First African American Deputy Sheriff of St. Clair County
Minor J. and Louvenia C McDonald*Founder and Co-Founder of the Cora Lina Beauty School George Muldrow* Last Internment 1975?