Photo: Sherman Harris, a leader of Baltimore-Washington Conference UM Men and the leader of the effort to restore the Auburn Cemetery views the results of four years of work.
BALTIMORE, Md.––United Methodist Men joined a community celebration of the conclusion of a four-year effort to restore a historic cemetery established in 1872 as “The City of the Dead for Colored People.”
At a May 14 celebration of the restored cemetery, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said he remembers passing the 34 acre site in 1999 and asking, “What is all that over there?” The site was indiscernible as a cemetery housing 48,000 graves of African Americans.
The Mount Auburn Cemetery, owned by Sharp Street UMC, contains the graves of Bishop Edgar A. Love, Bishop A.C. Hughes, Lillie Carroll Jackson, a civil-rights activist; John Henry Murphy, the founder of an Afro-American newspaper; William Ashby Hawkins, the first African American to run for the U.S. Senate; Louise Young, the first African-American woman physician in Maryland, and Joseph Gaines, the first African-American U.S. lightweight boxing champion.
Sherman Harris, a leader of UM Men in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, led the effort to restore the historic cemetery in 2008. He recalls the project began on a Saturday with 12 UM Men wielding machetes, chain saws and long-handle clippers. That initial effort was later supported by workdays sponsored by Smith Chapel UMC, 40 pastors of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and members of the Baltimore Region Discipleship team.
The renewal project took a huge step forward when the Rev. Douglas Sands, chairman of the Mt. Auburn Cemetery Corporation and the Rev. Del Hinton, pastor of Sharp Street UMC asked the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for help from inmates. With help from former Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealfeld III, the project was approved.
The inmates completed about 85 percent of the work, including the restoration of a 12-foot iron gate and a fence that surrounds the cemetery. Members of Sharp Street UMC would occasionally bring food to the inmates while they worked, and the inmates would attend services at the church.
Rowling Blake, secretary of the department, attended the May 14 celebration along with several of the inmates that helped restore the cemetery.
The future of the cemetery appears bright. Sharp Street UMC is developing a maintenance plan and will establish a columbarium for cremated remains, Tegeler Monuments is restoring headstones, and Morgan State University will utilize global positioning systems to determine if the headstones are aligned correctly.