A cemetery that is historically significant, especially for the African American community at Clinton, Missouri, could be preserved by the Department of Natural Resources under a bill signed into law this year.

One of the veterans buried in Antioch Cemetery is Otis Remus Lyle, who served during World War I.  He is buried next to his father, George.  Otis’ wife, Nellie, remarried after his death and is also buried in Antioch. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The legislation authorizes the state DNR to acquire Antioch Cemetery in Clinton.  It could turn the cemetery into an educational site to be operated by the state Division of Parks.

Many of those interred in the five-acre cemetery are people who were once enslaved.  It was established in 1885, but the first burial occurred 17 years earlier; that of 36 year old James F. Davis, who died in 1868.  Two acres of the site were deeded to Clinton’s African American residents in 1888, for $50.  More land was gifted in 1940.

Representative Rodger Reedy (R-Windsor) sponsored the original version of the Antioch Cemetery language that became law this year, in his House Bill 395.

“The African American Community has been very instrumental to the development of this area.  They’ve been a very big part of the history, and I just felt like it needed to be preserved,” said Reedy.  “My concern was a lot of the cemetery board members were getting older and they were concerned about  how it would be maintained in the future, and I just saw this as a way to make sure this is maintained from here on out.”

There are many homemade headstones at Antioch Cemetery, including that of Charley Kerr, who died in 1914 as the result of a stab wound.  (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I think our history is important and I think it’s always important to realize how we got to where we are today, and if we let places like this cemetery go by the wayside and not be maintained, our future generations are not going to be able to come back and look at the history,” said Reedy.

The earliest born individual in Antioch Cemetery is identified only as Aunt Mason, who was reportedly 106 years old when she died in 1887.  Contemporary newspaper accounts said she was “probably” the oldest person in the state at the time.  Papers recalled that while enslaved, Aunt Mason had been owned by at least four families, serving as a nurse for one.  One of those may have been the family of a man who was a state representative at the time the Civil War broke out.  It was around that time that she was freed, and for much of the time after that she lived alone.  Papers claim she was later shunned by her neighbors as a “witch and a soothsayer,” but recall she was “remarkable,” and retained vivid memories of her early life.  Hers is one of the many graves in Antioch that lacks a marker.

Representative Rodger Reedy stands at the grave of World War I veteran Gove Swindell, in Antioch Cemetery in Clinton. Reedy sponsored a bill aimed at ensuring the long-term preservation of Antioch. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The cemetery is also the final resting place of several veterans, including Jackson “Uncle Jack” Hall, who fought in the Civil War and died in 1911, at the age of 108.

It also includes brothers Charles and Clarence “Pete” Wilson, who served in World Wars I and II, respectively.  Charles served in France with the 92nd Infantry Division; a segregated infantry division of the U.S. Army that inherited the “Buffalo Soldiers” nickname given to African American cavalrymen in the 19th century.  Clarence was a Sergeant in the Army Air Corps.

Those in the cemetery haven’t always been allowed to rest peacefully.  In 1891, about two weeks after he was buried, the grave of Mat Wilson was desecrated and someone stole his body, leaving behind only his head and feet.

Burials at Antioch Cemetery have continued into the modern era, and the legislation will allow that to continue.

Click the left and right arrows below for more photos from Antioch Cemetery:

Antioch Cemetery

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Author: Editor
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