Palm Beach Post 10-26-1980 Black History 2

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Palm Beach Post 10-26-1980 Black History 2 - r.r.,.r,, C4-The C4-The C4-The Post, Sunday....
r.r.,.r,, C4-The C4-The C4-The Post, Sunday. October 26, 1980 4 . . . Even in death they have no respect for us Continued from CI lives in 1890. Fart of his legacy included included a beautiful garden of trees and flowers which he lovingly designed designed and planted. "I remember he told me that some day I would really appreciate what he was doing out there and, you know, he was right. He was such a neat, orderly man. I know he would be very unhappy to see what has become of Evergreen," Mrs. Mickens said. The task of keeping the gravesites in order fell to Miss Moore when Mrs. Mickens was confined to a walker, but even she doesn't visit the cemetery as often as she used to. The last time she was there alone, in 1976, several white boys came up over the hill and threw rocks at her. Only a few days later, the crypt of Estielle Wilkins, a descendent of Dimmie Wilkins, the man who helped build the Royal Poinciana, was broken open and her casket found 300 feet away. "And those were white boys that did that," Miss Moore said. A newspaper story written about the incident quoted a neighbor as saying the family "wasn't too upset" about the incident. But four years later, Tom Wilkins, 86, one of Dimmie's two surviving children, indicated otherwise. A plasterer by trade, he had built that crypt with his own hands. Buried there are his father, two brothers, a sister, two nieces and a sister-in-law. sister-in-law. sister-in-law. sister-in-law. sister-in-law. Wilkins visited often, keeping the crypt painted and the site sparkling sparkling clean. Burying a family member once was anguish enough. Today, four years later, the remembrance of having to do it a second time is still painful. Sorrow clouds Wilkins' weathered face. No, he didn't want to talk about it, but not because he didn't care. "That incident upset the black community a lot more than many folks think," Miss Moore said later as she and a newspaper reporter drove to the cemetery. "The thing is they're still doing it. You'll see a lot of other vandalism there." As the car entered through the leaning gateposts, Miss Moore spotted spotted two white men in a small green car parked in the center of the grounds. "Just keep driving through until they leave," she instructed, adding that the cemetery is frequently the scene of drug buys and other questionable questionable activity. The two men eyed our car carefully carefully as they passed and continued slowly toward the entrance. There they stopped behind a clump of bushes and after a few minutes got out and opened the trunk. One man stood near the front of their car while the other removed several articles articles from the trunk. Placing them in the front seat, they drove away. After they left, Miss Moore returned returned to the southeast section and attempted to locate the grave of J.W. Mickens, one of the county's earliest black educators, and the graves of the Fredericks family, who started the first black children's children's home in the county. She picked her way through sand spurs and thorny vines only to come upon a clump of Brazilian peppers totally engulfing the Mickens' grave-sites. grave-sites. grave-sites. This family line, like so many who are buried in Evergreen, has few survivors and those that remain are elderly. So the sites gradually decay. Trees take root, the sand erodes and the stones topple. After digging through the brambles brambles for several minutes, Miss Moore finally gave up and headed up the hill, pointing out several graves of people she knew or had heard of. There was Henry R. Speed and at least eight members of the Speed family. Speed came to West Palm Beach in 1897 and began building houses and selling lots. With only a fifth-grade fifth-grade fifth-grade education, he managed to amass a fortune which was passed on to his eight children. His family, however, is the true measure of his success. His wife died when the children were quite young, and Speed carried on the best he could. When he finished, every single one of them had a college education and all but one went into education. His daughter Clarinda was dean of girls at Roosevelt High School. Hisetta taught at Palmview Elementary Elementary schools and Pleasant City City elementary schools. Elnora taught in North Carolina. Olivia, who had a doctorate, taught at Roosevelt. Gladys Peak, one of the two surviving surviving Speed children, retired in 1971 after 38 years in the Palm Beach County school system. Of the other two Speeds, Lilli and Melvin, also teachers, there is a sad story. Lilli died in South Norwalk, Conn., but before her body arrived in West Palm Beach, her brother, who had gone to the west coast duck hunting, was drowned. , "And this is why I don't like your paper," Mrs. Peak said, as she groped in a bureau for a packet of '-V '-V '-V . ... . . :r - . - - , v " f V :: - i , ' "f 'v ' iff it, ' 4 .V f , -,' -,' :,-""' :,-""' :,-""' ' , - -j -j v- v- . 1 . ..V- ..V- 1 I 4 Halley Mickens (above) owned 10 of, the 'Afromobiles'that transported white tourists in Palm Beach's heyday. Henry Henry Speed (right) came to West Palm Beach in 1897 and a-massed a-massed a-massed a fortune in real estate. Dr. T.R. Vickers (left) practiced practiced here for 50 years. The Rev. Agustus Jackson (above, left) and the Rev. C.S. Long were ministers at the Payne Chapel when it was on Banyan Banyan Street. They were part of Palm Beach County's history, history, along with Dimmie Dimmie Andrew Wilkins (right), who helped build the Royal Poinciana Poinciana hotel. hi 1 mm" 1 J0 . i I t 4 X i 7 w "Mli ijtf rlrif f1 V? 3 M r news clippings. Though totally blind now, the words of the story burn bright in her memory. The story was written in 1954 by Alberta B. Wilson, a columnist for the Florida News, a black weekly newspaper. Wilson wrote: "On Saturday last I asked the local white paper to carry the notice in their paper of Lillie Speed Clements' passing in South Norwalk and burial here and was refused. refused. The Florida News was already issued for the week and there was no more expedient way to advise the Negro community than this ... I was told that if the deceased deceased had been born before 1900 it was the policy of the paper to print THAT person's death notice. "If Mrs. Clements had met THIS specification, I am wondering what the next requirement would have been, and how far along I would have had to go, until they found something; for if a man is looking for an excuse, anything will do." Last month the West Palm Beach City Council turned down a motion by Eva Mack, the city's only black commissioner, to take over the Evergreen Evergreen Cemetery. Citing possible legal problems of title and the expense expense of renovating the property, the commission recommended black leaders form a new cemetery association association and turn to federal funding. "Helping us help ourselves," one elderly black woman said bitterly. "I've heard that all my life. Why ic it always black folk got to help themselves and tax money does for white folk?" This year the city will spend $90,-000 $90,-000 $90,-000 to maintain the predominately white Woodlawn Cemetery. Black people, whose taxes for more than 50 years helped maintain a cemetery they could not enter, say the message is clear. "Excuses. When white people don't want to do something for black folks, they always find excuses. That's the way it's always been." Miss Moore was one of the group of blacks who initially approached the city asking them to make the "cemetery more livable," a phrase which prompted a Post reporter to write a few paragraphs of question able humor, headlined "Cemetery Issue Isn't Dead Vet." "People don't realize how much it hurts us to see Evergreen in this condition," said Miss Moore as she approached the Vickers family vault. Dr. T.R. Vickers came to West Palm Beach in 1912 to work with Dr. T. LeRoy Jefferson, the first black doctor. "He was a right nice guy," his ' widow Alice Vickers remembered. "He was an officer in Payne Chapel and catered to the middle class and the poor. Half the time they couldn't pay him, but it didn't matter. He always always did a lot of things for free for the city like taking out tonsils and making chest X-rays X-rays X-rays and for a while 'he worked for the jail treating black. and white." Mrs. Vickers would like very much to have the city take over the cemetery. "During his lifetime, things were pretty good up there. I don't think he'd want to be moved," she said. Lula B. Williams, a frail elderly woman of indeterminate years, did move her family from Evergreen to another black burial ground in Riviera Riviera Beach. "All my life I liked a pretty cemetery. I've got my grandparents, my stepmother and my sister and brother-in-law brother-in-law brother-in-law brother-in-law brother-in-law up there. I moved them once to Riviera, but then that one got bad, so I moved them back. I wish I could have put them in Woodlawn, but that was in 1957 and we couldn't go there then." Mrs. Williams' grandfather bought the property where she lives in 1901 when he became pastor of Payne Chapel, then still on Banyan Street. As a girl she used to ride her bicycle bicycle to Palm Beach to collect laundry from the hotels for her grandmother. grandmother. "All the workers over there were colored in those days all the waiters, waiters, and cooks and maids," she recalled. recalled. Although she never had any children children of her own, she did raise a nephew "like a son," and he helps her keep her family's gravesites in order as well as those of her friends who are not able to visit. Leroy Alexander, 83, is one of those who no longer visits the cemetery, though the entire Alexander Alexander family is buried there. Twelve years ago he suffered a stroke and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. Today he is the only remaining original member of the Evergreen Cemetery Association who, in 1916, pooled their meager funds to buy the cemetery property after blacks were kicked out of the city burial grounds. Contacted at his home recently, Alexander said he didn't know anything anything about the cemetery, except it was "kind of like in the country when I was growing up." As she continued her tour of the cemetery, Miss Moore said she and others are trying to find the cemetery records so they can locate all the graves. "Right now there are many people we know are out here, but nobody knows exactly where. Now, I do know where Dr. Sawyer, Gwen Cherry's father is. He's right over here and Mrs. Molly Holt, her grandmother ... " Miss Moore's hand flew to her mouth as she stood frozen. The end of Mrs. Holt's crypt was smashed open. Huge chunks of bricks and concrete lay strewn about. With tears welling, she looked through the gaping hole. Exposed, just a foot or two below, was the black casket, its brass trim glinting in the late afternoon sun. The glass top was shattered. There was nothing inside. "She's gone. She's gone," Miss Moore cried. Stunned, she turned away and stumbled a few steps up the hillside where she stood prayerfully. prayerfully. What had started out as a walking history lesson had turned into a walk of sorrow and despair. Even Haley Mickens' plot was overgrown with sand spurs and weeds. The ixoras Miss Moore had planted so proudly around the grave years ago loomed menacingly over the simple crypt. It was impossible to see the name plate. Wearily, she moved on, searching fruitlessly through the weeds and thorns for the graves of the black community's leaders her friends and neighbors. Little cries of anguish anguish punctuated the . leaden afternoon afternoon heat as she discovered more broken and desecrated graves. Shattered Shattered headstones lay strewn about. Bottles and cans had been thrown in the now empty crypts. "I can't find Dr. Terrill and I wanted you to see that. He did so much, registering voters. I can remember remember Terrill, Mrs. Mickens and our old funeral director going downtown downtown begging the white people for things. We had absolutely nothing in our part of town. I've always known where he was, but I'm just so upset I can't think," she said apologetically apologetically Nevertheless, she headed for the western edge of the grounds to search for one more grave. "This area here," she said, indicating indicating a wide path cut through the white sand, "is where the white chil- chil- . dren come in." Tombstones were scattered down the side of the bank and farther down the property line, caskets and crypts cascaded down the hill in a , grim display. Miss Moore bent as if to upright a small marble headstone. Then, seeing seeing so many more sliding down the bank, she straightened. Frustration and sorrow clouded her eyes as they swept the forlorn burial ground. "I just don't understand this," she murmured. "Even in death ... even in death they have no respect for us." i

Clipped from
  1. The Palm Beach Post,
  2. 26 Oct 1980, Sun,
  3. Page 68

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  • Palm Beach Post 10-26-1980 Black History 2

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