Cemeteries can be treasure troves of information for history lovers. Situated in the once thriving segregation era, middle-class black community of Brownsville, Miami’s Lincoln Memorial Cemetery can also be described as a South Floridian black history museum.
In 1937, Kelsey Pharr, a black funeral director, acquired the property for use as a 20-acre burial ground. However, the earliest burials date back to 1923 on the property that was originally owned by F.B. Miller. Like other Jim Crow era black cemeteries of the south, Lincoln Memorial Park was established to serve as the final resting place for black residents who were barred from the area’s white cemeteries.
According to the legend, Kelsey Leroy Pharr, who would later become the first black embalmer in Miami, would cut down lynching victims he found hanging from trees and would secretly burry these people at night in Lincoln Memorial Park. He did this so that these lynching victims could have a dignified resting place and did so at his own personal risk. One night, as the story goes, Mr. Miller discovered Kelsey Pharr performing one of these burials and, instead of being irate, was taken by the man’s compassion. As a result, Miller then decided to deed the property over to Kelsey Pharr at a highly discounted price, thus making Mr. Pharr one of the only blacks to own a cemetery in the south.
Source: Coral Gables Museum
Due to being located in an area at sea level, the above the ground burial style of Lincoln and nearby cemeteries make them unique site to see in the United States. It is estimated that Lincoln serves as the final resting place for as many as 30,000 black Miamians. One can easily agrue that many of the people hear, such as Kelsey Pharr, Dana Dorsey, Henry Reeves and Gwendolyn “Gwen” Cherry were just as important in the establishment and development of Miami as Julia Tuttle and Henry Flagler.
Kelsey Pharr, Lincoln Memorial Park’s first owner was not only a prominent mortician, he also founded South Florida’s first chapter of Boy Scouts for African Americans.
The son of former enslaved couple from Quitman, Georgia, Dorsey arrived in Miami in 1896, while employed with Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad. Investing in providing rental housing for black workers, Dorsey eventually became Miami’s first black millionaire, establishing the city’s first black owned hotel and bank. Also a philanthropist, he once owned Fisher Island which is one of South Florida’s most wealthy exclusive residential enclaves today.
After arriving from the Bahamas and seeing the need for a voice in a time of overt racism, Reeves established the Miami Times in 1923 to advocate for the civil liberties and interests of Miami’s underrepresented black community. Today, the Miami Times is known as the country’s oldest Black-owned newspaper.
Raised in Miami and a graduate of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), Cherry was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1965, becoming the first African-American woman to practice law in Miami-Dade County. She later became the first African-American woman to serve as a state legislator in Florida when she was elected to the Florida House in 1970.
Fisher Island was once owned by Dana Dorsey, one of the South’s first African American millionaires.
Today, privately owned with the assistance of dedicated caretaker, Arthur Kennedy, Lincoln Memorial Park fights to survive the test of time, grave robbers and South Florida’s tropical natural environment. Lincoln Memorial Park is located at 3001 N.W. 46th Street. Here is a visual walk through this historic Miami cemetery.
Next Page: Photo tour of Lincoln Memorial Park