Friday, June 5, 2009

Greenwood Cemetery, St Louis

Greenwood Cemetery is an African-American cemetery in St. in St. Louis County. It has a rich and storied history in has seen good times and bad. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Greenwood has an estimated 50,000 graves. The earliest grave dates from 1874. Here is an excerpt from the national register of historic places nomination form for Greenwood Cemetery:

Established on January 19, 1874 by Herman Krueger, this is the first non-sectarian commercial cemetery for African Americans in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The cemetery has approximately 6000 marked graves, but is thought to contain over 50,000 burials. The graves represent a cross section of the African American community in St. Louis from former slaves and common laborers to community leaders in the small but thriving black middle class. The cemetery is characteristic of the rural cemetery movement, however, remnants of African and Southern black burial customs can be found throughout the cemetery.

Many of the people buried at Greenwood were originally inhabitants of Mississippi and other Southern states who participated in this Great Migration.

With desegregation, however, the need for separate cemeteries eventually ended, as did the commercial viability of St Louis' black privately owned cemeteries. By the 1980s all three commercial black cemeteries in the city had been sold to new owners, who soon discovered that there were no perpetual-care funds to maintain the facilities. The only source of income was the sale of new plots—a source inadequate to the maintenance needs at Greenwood. The result was that the cemetery rapidly declined and became a dumping ground and target for vandals.
State of Missouri, Department of Natural Resources, Nomination Form for Greenwood Cemetery to be on National Register of Historic Places (2004) [edited for brevity and consistency].

Bud light was soon on the horizon for Greenwood Cemetery. In March, 2000, the Attorney General of Missouri acted to declare Greenwood "abandoned" in that way forced the sale of the cemetery to St Louis County. Since that time, a nonprofit group known as Friends of Greenwood Cemetery has worked tirelessly to improve the condition of Greenwood Cemetery. Many of the group members are individuals who have family members buried in the cemetery. The Friends' efforts have been supported by the Missouri National Guard, Monsanto, the Boy Scouts, Southwestern Bell (now AT&T), and other organizations. Their efforts, though sincere, have at times been frustrating.

I recently was in contact with a Find-A-Grave volunteer who said while parts of the cemetery are still in poor condition, the group working on it has "cut down brush and tress in the center and uncovered some markers that go back to the 20's." They've also fixed a road.

At this link, there is a video that describes recent efforts to rehabilitate Greenwood Cemetery. All those who volunteer for such projects deserve the community's gratitude!

A number of notable people are buried at Greenwood. These include Harriet Scott, the wife of Dred Scott, and many musicians, artists, businesspeople, educators, and other prominent persons in the history of Black St. Louis.

My great great grandfather Elias A. Bowie [not to be confused with his son Elias G. Bowie, or his other son, Elias Bowie Jr., my granduncle] who died in 1970, is buried at Greenwood.

Also buried at Greenwood is a man named Lee Shelton. Lee Shelton died at the Missouri State penitentiary in 1912. He was serving a term for the murder of a man named William Lyons.

Contest Question [what's this?] : What were the meteorological, astronomical, and seasonal conditions on the night of the murder of William Lyons (according to the most popular folk culture account of the murder)?

If you know the answer to this question, put the answer in a comment to this post, or as a comment to the post on this link over at Geneablogie. State the source for your answer!

Image Sources:

1. Greenwood photograph: State of Missouri, Secretary of State, Missouri State Archives Missouri Digital Heritage Collections: Greenwood Cemetery Funerary Art [photographer and date unknown], available at|r
(accessed 5 June 2009)

2. Shelton Death Certificate: State of Missouri, Secretary of State, Missouri State Archives, Missouri Death Certificates, 1910-1958. Available at (searched 4 June 2009)


Judith Richards Shubert said...

Well, let me see ~ Lee Shelton shot William Lyons ~ Lee was "Staggar Lee" and he shot Willie on a clear night when the moon was yellow and it must have been Fall because the leaves were coming down! Actually, I think the crime occurred on Christmas Eve, 1895, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Lyrics Download
Trouble in River City
Wikipedia: Stagger Lee Shelton

Judith Richards Shubert said...

Forgot to mention, Craig, that Lee "Stagger Lee" Shelton is buried in Greenwood Cemetery after having died in Missouri State Penitentiary after serving 15 years, I believe, for the murder.

Yvette Porter Moore said...

Thank you for this information...I too have family buried in Greenwood Cemetery in St. Louis Missouri.