Lionel Richie and cemeteries

I have always enjoyed Lionel Richie‘s music – from his time as a member of the Commodores to his career as a solo artist – his music always resonated to me. When I saw he was going to be on NBC’s  “Who Do You Think You Are?” I thought there might be a connection to my research.

About half way through the episode, Richie travels to a cemetery to look for his relative’s headstone.  It was late fall and many leaves were on the ground.  When his car pulled up and he saw how disheveled the grounds were, I could empathize immediately with him.

Last fall on my visit to the grave sites of people I’m researching, I found a church cemetery that is completely forgotten. This little cemetery is near where the Little Zion church once stood and is no longer readily visible. The church was important in organizing its members and assisting fugitive slaves. Noah West’s headstone (see previous blog) was pushed off its base and debris covered the stone. I had to brush away debris to find it and take a picture.

Noah West

Noah West

Another cemetery I visited was a black cemetery where the parents of a bishop of Wilberforce University* are buried.

Arnett's grave site

However, just next to this one is a cemetery similar to the one Lionel Richie found. It bothered me to see how nobody cared to maintain the area.

Black Cemetery - overgrown

Black Cemetery close up of headstone

Black Cemetery close up of headstone

Although Richie was looking for a relative and I was not, I thought how, during these individuals’ times, they were important. Now, they are completely forgotten. Their relatives in the 21st century do not know about them, their activities or the importance of those activities. This is just like Richie not knowing how instrumental his great-grandfather was to African-Americans.

I think again about how we are but a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things. I guess it doesn’t matter what happens after I die. It is the now that should concern me. Have I lived up to my potential? Have I treated others fairly? With kindness? My “impact” shouldn’t be remembered on a head stone, but in the actions I take every day.

*Founded in 1856, Wilberforce University can trace its origin to a period of history before the Civil War, when the Ohio Underground Railroad was established as a means of escape for all those blacks who sought their freedom in the North from the yoke of slavery, one of the destination points of this railroad became Wilberforce University. As the Underground Railroad provided a route from physical bondage, the University was formed to provide an intellectual Mecca and refuge from slavery’s first rule: ignorance.¹

¹Wilberforce University, accessed March 13, 2011.

Published in: on March 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I continue to be fascinated by your stories and photos, Lou. Keep up the good work!

  2. Beautiful thoughts, Lou. We have an historic African American cemetery in Jacksonville Beach that was only recently rediscovered and restored – for decades businesses had been located on and around the gravesites, and they were finally torn down, the plots recovered and restored.

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