Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sixth Street Cemetery or Southern Hills

Not long after purchasing The Bungalow in 2010, a local historian dropped by the house.  I was red-faced and sweating over the sloped back yard and a borrowed mower, and was alarmed to see the elderly gentleman standing patiently inside the gate waiting for my attention.  He was looking for an old cemetery that was supposed to be hidden in the brush somewhere near our home.  On the verge of a coronary from the heat and exertion, I told the man that I had no idea what he was talking about, but asked if he would like to sit for a spell on the front porch where it was cooler.  It was there in that blessed shade that he spoke of a long forgotten cemetery that was the final resting place for many of the African American community members who lived near and worked for those wealthy folks who lived in the historical district.  He said that he knew the cemetery was out on this ridge, overlooking the bird sanctuary, but because of all the undergrowth, he was having a hard time finding it.  It was a mystery, a mystery that wouldn't be solved for several more years...a mystery that has only led to more mysteries...

A year or so later, I heard of a group that was trying to raise funds to clear the brush that was obscuring an old cemetery off of Sixth Street.  The cemetery was reported to be the one used by African Americans in our neighborhood...

Last summer, at our Teen Summer Reading Program on archaeology, Chari Bostick, director of Grace Heritage Foundation came up after the program to speak with the presenter Chris Hill (my former archaeological crew chief).  She needed information about whom to contact with the state about preserving the old Sixth Street Cemetery, also known by the name Southern Hills.  She had been working to set up a foundation to house funds for preservation, and had managed to get the City of Gadsden to begin work on clearing the brush, but the machinery used to do the clearing was doing more harm than good, so she was back to working with groups of volunteers who were cutting and clearing by hand.  Chris made his recommendations to Ms. Bostick and, after the end of that evening, I promptly forgot about the cemetery, again.

It was only after our Civil Rights Unity Walk last month and my thoughts about the shared history of our community, a history that transcends skin color,  that the cemetery lost in the woods came back to mind.  How does a city cemetery become lost?  I think that a cemetery becomes lost only when the people who are buried there are considered not worth remembering by those who could do something about it.  Lots of things could be at play here...race, socioeconomics, who knows? Embarrassed that I had lived in our neighborhood for five years without visiting the cemetery, a cemetery that Eric had photographed during one of their work sessions, I put Sixth Street Cemetery on my list of things to do the Saturday following the Unity Walk.  And coincidentally, during work that week, I received a Facebook message from friend Bill Thornton saying that Bunk Richardson was buried in Sixth Street Cemetery because it happened to serve as the pauper's cemetery for the city at the time of Mr. Richardson's lynching...Bill, whom I originally knew from his covering our late 1990s archaeological digs in Calhoun County and, most importantly from his chilling five-part series written for the Gadsden Times in 2000 about Bunk Richardson. 

Eric and I visited the cemetery two weeks ago.  It was the first warm, blue-sky day that we've had in a long time. Yes, tombstones are missing, and crypts have been damaged, but a remarkable amount of work has been done under the direction of Ms. Bostick.  Eric and I hope to participate in future work sessions, and try to help in any way that we are able. 

Update:  Eric was kind enough to find these Gadsden Times articles, written in 2003 and 2008 about the cemetery...

Monday, March 16, 2015

State of the Bungalow Address, March 16, 2015

First we saw these, which always bring hope:

Crocus at The Bungalow.

Then mom thought I should have gran's tea cup and saucer.  Which. Was. Perfect.

Then, I couldn't wait any longer, so I started digging a ditch to divert water away from the house.  This ditch will be widened and turned into a dry creek bed after we build the deck.

But then, I was so excited about the new planting beds along the fence, I transplanted a gazillion plants and put down store-bought pine straw (ouch) while it rained the next day.  I also added some rock foot bridges.  Booker thinks that I did all of this for him. 

Then a stink (stank) bug got in the house and Booker worried it to death.  Poor stank bug.  No, it survived his pawin' and snufflin' long enough for me to liberate it to the front yard.

And then yesterday evening, after excavating about a foot down at the back of the house for the new deck, Eric and I sat with Booker.  Rather, Booker sat on Eric.

Oh, and did I mention the deck?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Subtleties In Dialect

On the few occasions that mom and dad ever went out for a date-night when we were little, they would use the same young woman to babysit my sister and me.  This young woman, Debbie, came from a good, working-class family like us and lived only two houses away.  Debbie may have only been eight or ten years older than us, but she seemed like such a grown up.  My momma sometimes looked after her momma, as her momma suffered from recurring seizures (and my momma, being a stay-at-home momma at the time, often looked after neighbors who were ailing), so we knew them well enough to come and go in their yard as we pleased and to knock on their door at any hour of the day to play with their chihuahuas and/or play on their organ (which, thinking back, may have been a famed Hammond Organ...I enjoyed just listening to the preset marimba percussion more than actually playing any songs). 

One day, sister and I decided to walk all the way to Pedo's quick shop to buy penny candy.  This was long before sister and I were allowed to walk to the store or to Old Harmony Cemetery alone, so momma must have asked Debbie to come accompany us, or perhaps we pestered her into coming.  Either way, Debbie was there with us on the day when we looked up to the sky across the road from our friend Norma Jean's house and noticed something blood red wrapped around the power lines.

"What's that?" I asked, squinting up.

"It's a cat," Debbie replied.

"A CAT?" I queried.

"Yes, a cat."

"How did it get there?" I squinted up at it harder, trying to make out its tail or ears.

"I guess it just got caught up there."  She shrugged at my wide eyes.

We walked away that day with me looking back over my shoulder every once in awhile to make sure the cat didn't move.

For several years after that I would roller skate, bike, or walk down the street just to look at that cat on the power lines and try figure out how a cat got caught up there in the first place.  Did the cat climb up the power pole and try to walk the lines like squirrels did and then get 'lectricuted?  Did someone throw the cat up there as a mean prank?  And why was Debbie so calm that day we discovered it?  If I was a grown up, I would've figured out a way to get that cat down and give back to its family.  If it had been my cat, I would've wanted its body returned so as to lay it to eternal rest on the family property.  That way we could sing to it and read poetry to it and just generally keep it from being lonely...

But time and growing up made me forget about that cat.  And it wasn't until about twenty-five years later as I reminisced about roller skating and biking and walking to Pedo's for penny candy as a child with my sister that I thought about that poor cat caught up in the power lines again.  I still couldn't for the life of me figure out how that cat got up there...and then a thought occurred to me.  Debbie was born and raised in Gadsden, AL, a place where mysterious things tend to happen to vowels in our mother language, a language that I was exposed to daily, but a language that was not spoken as fluently in our house of transplants from the north.  I realized then that the thing caught up in those power lines long ago was not a cat, but a kite.  A KITE.  Unlike the older me, subtleties of dialect were completely lost to my adolescent ear, an ear that would become well educated in dialect through many years of deep immersion in my chosen southern land, a land where glasses occasionally get "wrenched" instead of rinsed, and you may hike up a "mounting" instead of a mountain.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Marching Forward

We had almost a foot of snow last week.  Most of Alabama closed up shop and didn’t reopen for business until temps climbed a day later. 

Luckily, the roads and bridges were clear for our first Gadsden Civil Rights Unity Walk across Memorial Bridge.  The walk, hosted by the GPL, was to honor those individuals from Gadsden who in some way contributed to the Civil Rights Movement and to honor those events that took place in Gadsden/Etowah County during (before and after) the Civil Rights Movement.  My thoughts turned to Bunk Richardson, wrongly accused and lynched from the trestle bridge in 1916 for the rape and murder of a white woman; Baltimore postman William Lewis Moore, who was shot to death in 1963 on Highway 11 in Etowah County as he walked his letter of desegregation from Maryland to Mississippi; James Hood, whose entry in 1963 as one of the first African American students at the University of Alabama was initially barred by Governor George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door;” Alan Cohn and Alvin Lowi, shot by sixteen-year-old Jerry Hunt while fleeing a firebombed Temple Beth Israel; a teenaged Robert Avery and James Smith hitchhiking north in 1963 to participate in the March on Washington; Emory Boggs, set on fire (and later died) in 1975 by Stanford Lewis Collins in a robbery gone horrifically wrong. 

Our diverse little group made its way west on the bridge, led in song by Jeanette Allen and SCLC President Marcia Kendrick.  We walked within steps of the statue of Emma Sansom, Civil War heroine who pointed the way for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest to safely cross Black Creek and pursue Union forces.  The irony was not lost on me that on THIS day, she pointed the way for a different kind of soldier…

Copyright Eric T. Wright.  With permission.

Once we reached the gazebo of City Hall, Ms. Kendrick spoke about the importance of education and of remembering our history.  We then joined hands and sang We Shall Overcome.  As the small crowd broke up and Ms. Kendrick was pulled aside by television crews for interviews, I slipped away with Ms. Allen and Mr. Smith (one of the teens who hitchhiked to D.C. back in 1963) to walk back across the bridge to our cars and to notify the city street crew of the end of our walk...