Designating the clean up of Lincoln Cemetery as his official volunteer project for the Martin Luther King Jr. day of service on Saturday, January 19, was “a very appropriate thing to do,” said Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson.
“This is a gesture of being civilized and taking good care of the place not only for the memory of those interred here but also for their families and loved ones that come here to see them,” he said. “There are thousands here and the majority are African Americans.”
The cemetery is “within our boundaries and it has had a lot of challenges in the past in terms of who was taking over, the maintenance and managing the place,” said Henderson. “We’ve got a group of people that have taken over this thing and frankly, it’s a lot to handle. It’s a big piece of property.”
The historic site, located at 600 58th Street S., is 8.82 acres in size. The non-profit Lincoln Cemetery Society of Gulfport has owned it since February 14, 2017, according to the property deed filed with the Pinellas County Clerk of the Court. More than 6,000 people are interred with graves dating back before the 1900s.
Members of the non-profit, people from local service organizations such as the Optimists and Lion’s Club, other councilmembers, city staff and residents joined Henderson for the cleanup.
“Between 20 to 30 people turned out,” said Vanessa Gray, president of the non-profit. “I think it’s absolutely amazing that the whole community can come together for a common goal.”
Volunteers concentrated on clearing brush, weed whacking, mowing and trimming trees along with sweeping off gravestones, said Gray.
“Debris, leaves and dirt can cover gravestones over time,” she said.
One group of people, trained by Gray, concentrated on looking for a specific marker that had not been seen since 2006, according to cemetery records.
“We’re here to serve everybody that’s interred and also family members who come out and have not been able to find their loved ones,” said Gray. “We’re trying to locate the headstone of a baby so the mother can have peace of mind and visit her son.”
Nearby, a woman and her brother worked at cleaning up the grounds by picking up brush with a wheel barrel and weed whacking.
“If we can just get it under control, it’s easier to maintain. That’s hopefully what we are trying to do today,” said Laura Johnson of St. Petersburg. She and her brother Derick Johnson were helping because they love to volunteer and they have relations buried at the cemetery.
“It would be nice to see them resting in a nice, wonderful place,” said Johnson. “Not a place in such disrepair.”
In addition to volunteering, Henderson encourages people to visit the cemetery.
“If people are unfamiliar with this place, it’s worth coming to take a look at it because it’s one of the prettiest places in town,” said Henderson. “There’s a lot of cultural history to it. Also, it’s a good place for peace and quiet and reflection.”
Service Day Postscript
At 3:44 p.m., Gray reported that the headstone of Willie J. Thomas III, 4 months old, had been found.