Memphis Downtowner October 2012 : Page 18

Julia Henderson was the wife of Rev. Morris Henderson, who cofounded and opened Zion Cemetery in 1876. Julia’s broken headstone typifies the neglect the cemetery experienced for 30-plus years. Paulene Keller Thousands of graves are barely visible beneath jungle-like growth that has consumed Zion Cemetery since the 1920s. White stones of all sizes peer through dense grapevines and shrubs, waiting for rescue. Within Zion’s 15.2 acres, there will never be an accurate count of graves because many markers are buried, missing, or broken from years of vandalism and neglect. Uprooted trees expose their tightly coiled fingers encircling headstones that were pulled underground decades ago. Trash is found in all areas of Zion’s woods, once used as a dumping ground. This is not the same Zion Cemetery of 1876 — a place of refuge, a sanctuary, the Promised Land — where black Memphians proudly buried their dead. Ken Hall, Dr. Milton Moreland, and Rev. Tyrone Davis saw the tragedy and resolved to do something about it. Over the years, they have worked to reclaim Zion Cemetery and its 136 years of Memphis history. “When we began, the cemetery had been neglected for 60 years,” says Hall, donor relations representative for Church Health Center. “In the past 12 years, we have only cleared about half of the 15 acres because everything must be done by hand.” In 1873, the United Sons of Zion, a black fraternal order of the Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, bought land in the 1400 block of South Parkway East, just east of Bellevue. In 1876, the Sons of Zion joined Rev. Morris Henderson and Beale Street Baptist Church to open Zion Cemetery for black families, who had few burial choices in Memphis at the time. Zion Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. That same year, the nonprofit Zion Community When Henderson died Project was formed to concentrate on restoration efforts. in 1877, he was among the first buried at Zion, and his monument still stands like a guardian on the path leading into the cemetery. Zion Cemetery Co. purchased the property after Henderson’s death and issued shares to the owners. As the cemetery grew, owners died and shares passed to succeeding generations. GHOST STORIES Dr. Georgia Patton Washington, Memphis’s first black female physician, is one of the names found on a Zion Cemetery headstone. In Paulene Keller Paulene Keller Ken Hall, donor relations representative for Church Health Center, became involved with the Zion Community Project 12 years ago. He stands near the toppled grave marker for Dr. Georgia Patton Washington, Memphis’s first black female physician. Before her death in 1890, Washington requested that a magnolia tree be planted next to her grave. That tree — behind Hall — still shades her final resting place. 18 DOWNTOWNER MAGAZINE | OCTOBER 2012

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