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Outtakes 12/15/11

HISTORIC EMBARRASSMENT The Magnolia Cemetery sits in the heart of old Pensacola on A Street, between Cervantes Street and Pensacola High School. Hundreds drive by it every day.

IN reporter Jeremy Morrison wrote last week about the historic, abandoned cemetery (Independent News, “Searching for Closure,” December 8). From the late 1800s until well into last century, Magnolia was the only place in the city where black people could be buried. Every black family with any roots in Pensacola has ancestors buried there.

The heritage white families had St. Michael’s and later St. John’s cemeteries.  The black families had Magnolia. St. Michael’s and St. John’s have foundations and grants to maintain them. Records show Magnolia is owned by Talbot Chapel A.M.E. Church and the A.M.E. Zion Burial Association. St. Michael’s and St. John’s are well-kept showcases that honor those interred there. Magnolia is a tangled web of fallen trees, weeds and snakes.

Raymond Reese, who lives next to Magnolia, has kept the section that abuts his home cleared, but has gotten no help from the A.M.E. —African Methodist Episcopal— groups. Former State Rep. Buzz Ritchie and the Woodham High student council cleared it in the 1990s. Pensacola City Councilman Brian Spencer led a work detail there in 2009 shortly after he was elected.

While the white politicians have stepped up to help, the African-American elected officials seem to be so addicted to the comfort of their chairs and titles to ever get involved. Commissioners Willie Junior and Marie Young drove by it and did nothing. City Council members Hugh King and Jewel Cannada-Wynn turned a blind eye and deaf ear to Reese’s complaints.

Considering that King and Cannada-Wynn are running for Young’s county commission seat, maybe ignoring the Magnolia Cemetery is what they consider a qualification for holding the seat.

Instead of showing concern for the dead buried there, Rev. James French, head of the 11 churches that belong to the Florida chapter of A.M.E. Zion, denied ownership and any responsibility for the Magnolia Cemetery when Jeremy interviewed him. Apparently Christian duty and goodwill don’t cover the dead, especially if costs are involved.

So the Magnolia Cemetery sits—an embarrassment to a city that prides itself on its historic past and an indictment of the failed leadership of the African-American politicians.

Pride begins in how we teach our children and in how we honor the dead. Our public schools are struggling and the dead in the Magnolia Cemetery have been abandoned. Pensacola, particularly in the African-American community, can have no true civic pride until we deal with both.