The lost cemetery
The St. Nicholas Bethel Baptist Church cemetery is hard to find. It’s fenced off on all sides in the middle of Stonemont Village Apartments complex. I was looking for the cemetery because it recently received historic designation as one of Jacksonville’s oldest African American cemeteries.
Map showing the land-locked cemetery. (Florida Parcels)
You would never know people were buried there, though. You have to walk around the barbed-wire fence, past the dumpster and abandoned playground, and pick your way through the overgrowth. Beneath the palms is where you will find three to four broken headstones. They aren’t legible, but they do catch your breath; your heart recognizing what your eyes haven’t quite seen yet.
I met Veronica Little at St. Nicholas Bethel Baptist Church to discuss the current state of the cemetery. Because it is fenced in on all sides, no one can access it to maintain the grounds. And so weeds, palms, and trash trees have taken over. Ms. Little spent 24 years in the Army National Guard, retiring as a Sergeant First Class, and is very passionate about regaining access to “help clean up for the vet’s sake and give our soldiers rest,” she says. “It’s shameful to not take care of the graves.”
The cemetery was fenced in almost 10 years ago during a period the church was gaining new leadership. They lost access to the gravesites then, and now would like to regain access so the graves can be maintained. And, more importantly, so surviving family members and friends can pay their respects.
Article by Kelsi Hasden. Contact Kelsi at email@example.com