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Concerns rise over maintenance of historic Black cemetery in south St. Louis County

Derk Brown walked Father Dickson Cemetery on Sappington Road and found broken headstones. The managers say their efforts to upkeep the site started in 1988.

ST. LOUIS — Derk Brown walked through the Father Dickson Cemetery to learn about Black history. When he saw the conditions of the gravestones, he shared his concerns on Facebook.

"People had pretty much the same reaction that I got. People were upset, heartbroken," Brown said.

The cemetery is named after Moses Dickson, a black abolitionist who is buried there along with prominent political leader James Milton Turner.

Numerous Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War, Spanish American War, Korean War, World War I and II were also laid to rest in the cemetery. 

"Right now what stands between the cemetery being kept and maintained is this organization right here," said Ernest Jordan, Friends of Father Dickson Cemetery president.

Jordan said his organization manages the site. They say since the cemetery lacks a perpetual care endowment, they have to rely solely on volunteers, donations and pro-bono services to maintain this historic property.

Jordan said the weather erodes away at the headstone material over time.

"The responsibility of the headstone falls back on the owners of the people that were buried there, either them or a relative because when they purchased that, they purchased that with a deed," Jordan said.

Many of the people were buried in wooden boxes that deteriorated, causing the ground to cave in and the headstones to fall over. If the owners of the individual plots don't maintain it, Jordan said anyone can lend a helping hand.

"They want to come out and volunteer, and that's my goal too, to volunteer with permissions from the owners of course," Brown said.

"If they have that much strong desire to do something, they need to get in touch with me," Jordan said.

Jordan said the cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in October.

For more information on how to help their maintenance efforts visit the Friends of Father Dickson Cemetery's Facebook page.

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