There were many simple unmarked stones of concrete and slate as well as several constructed of granite and marble. Although the earliest burials on the marked graves are around the mid-1800s, the unmarked graves, which total about 100, could be the earlier grave sites, perhaps of slaves and their descendants. This cemetery was established and used by several black Churches and prominent black families before and after the Civil War.
The many grave marker characteristics included many differently shaped tomb stones including unmarked crude stone rocks, crude headstones, rounded top tablets, gothic profile towers, flat ground, crosses, concrete curbs lined graves, concrete slab encased graves. Interestingly there were a dozen or so graves adorned with shell covered concrete which brought out the African and Mediterranean influence on this group of people. There were many unmarked graves as previously mentioned that are only noticeable by the sunken indentions of the settling ground. Some symbols adorned the markers on many graves such as the eye, hand pointing up, the heart, the crown, the anvil, music, city mansions, feather, hour glass, lamb, dove, HIS / IHC, INRI, angels, crosses Woodmen of the World, Odd Fellows, Masonic, Eastern Star, Mosaic Templars and Sisters Dwell at Home Chamber. The marked graves of these Black Americans ranged from the simplicity of a plain unmarked piece of slate to an elaborate design of a city on another. Although these symbols were found on the many headstones and many did contain elaborate carving, epitaphs, and symbols; for the most part, the graves stones were not elaborately engraved.
The most influential grave recorded was identified by a simple piece of slate with the name “Ernest” no doubt written or scratched in by hand. After researching this single name it is probably as in another of my graveyard studies, the grave of a slave. Slaves took one name at birth with no last name unless they gained respect for their master and took their last name.
Several inscriptions of other markers included the armed services such as Navy, Army and Marines. I wondered as I stood and admired these graves of fallen soldiers as well as ones who died of natural causes what compelled them to serve a country that dealt them so much discrimination at that time. I wondered how I, a Native American, would have reacted if I had been the victim of such adverse actions while I served my country; would I have volunteered to be a soldier who would spend most of my time in service as a cook or service person? Would I had loved my country as I do now if this had been done to me? Apparently they did and the pride of their service is written on their tomb stones from service in World War I, World War II, The Korean Conflict as well as the Vietnam War, and probably serving alongside of my military relatives. I gained a great respect for these service men after reading their inscriptions written with such pride, and gained even more respect for my country that gives its people an opportunity to pursue their happiness no matter what their background and with an instinct to protect that opportunity.
Another inscription that garnered my attention was one of Jerry W. Russel. He was born in 1871 and died in 1910. He was probably the son or nephew or related somehow of a slave. His parents must have been good ones to see how their son was honored with the large 6 foot tall gothic tower tombstone with the inscription of “Founder of Slate City Lodge 5710, G.L.L.O. of O.F. acting P.N.F. and members of the Household of Ruth.” According to Mr. Greg Grey with the Polk County Historical Society, the Slate City Lodge was a black chapter of the Odd Fellows. “The Household of Ruth” was the equivalent of the Eastern Star of the white Masonic Lodges. (Stories) For someone to be a founder of the lodge and a member of others in his community, I would have to believe he was a man of great faith and a man who loved his family, church, community, and country, a man who was most likely brought up in a family that loved their family, church, community and country. With many of my family being past and present members of the Masonic Lodge and Shriners, I understand and respect this man as I do my own family members. Although he lived a short time with a lifespan of only 39 years, what positive influences he had on the people and his community!
This cemetery and its inhabitants gave me an improved since of community pride, increased respect for ones who serve through military service as well as ones who serve our communities and churches through their worthwhile and rewarding organizations. No, it was not the fanciest or prettiest cemetery seen, but it contained some of the most prolific signs of pride in God, family and community that I have experienced in a final resting place.