"I wish all these people could see how wonderful they look!" exclaimed Lillie Finklea surveying the standing-room-only crowd gathered for the rededication ceremony of the Freedman's Cemetery. "The first time there were only 13 of us."
Lillie and Louise Massoud founded the Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery in 1997 after T. Michael Miller, Alexandria historian, established its existence under a gas station and an office building.
Wesley E. Pippenger found the names of more than 1800 people who had been buried there in Gladwin's Death Records.
"When I saw that list I recognized a lot of the names," said Lillie, "because the families still live here."
DRUMMERS AND SINGERS
The African Heritage Drummers led by Melvin Deal, furnished continuity throughout the program. The City of Alexandria Choir, led by Jacquelyn Darden, sang beautifully with absolute on-pitch accuracy, marred only by a loudspeaker system, which added feedback and squeaks and unexpected stops and starts. I have enjoyed hearing this fine group without artificial amplification on several occasions.
Reverend Adam Hansford of Zion Baptist Church gave the invocation; Rev. Lee A. Earl of Shiloh Baptist Church the benediction. Mary McElveen, Alexandria Poet Laureate, read "Wind From the River," a moving elegy about the cemetery and the people buried there.
Mayor William Euille and other elected officials, past and present, who have supported this effort, were there Del Pepper, Tim Lovain, Paul Smedberg, Ludwig Gaines, Ellen Pickering, Lois Walker, Patsy Ticer, Brian Moran, Bill Cleveland, and Ed Semonian.
Pam Cressey, City Archaeologist, whose workers have located many of the actual graves and will continue to work on the site, was there accepting congratulations which she had tried to dodge by leaving her own name off the program.
Both Nelson Greens — Sr. and Jr. — were there, as were Louis Hicks, Audrey Davis, and Lillian Patterson of the Black History Museum, Col. Ethel Underwood, and Carlton Funn.
HISTORICAL SOCIETY MEMBERS
Bob Montague, Anne Paul, Doug Thurman, Pat Troy, Boyd Walker, Bill Dickinson, and Mike Oliver were present, as were Theresa and Richard Miller and Mike Hobbs. and Dr. F.J. Pepper.
Also gathered to honor the occasion were Agnes and Engin Artemel, Julie Crenshaw and Townsend Van Fleet, Cheryl and David Colton, Maureen Dugan, Brigitte Guttstadt, Wesley Pippenger, and Beatrice Miller, Lillie Finklea's mother.
"This place is part of everybody’s history," commented Del Pepper. "This event is part of the city's soul."
A FAMILY OF ARTISTS
Nina Tisara and her son Steven Halperson showed some of their recent works at a reception at Indigo Gallery on King Street.
Actually, that charming little mosaic horse called Meadow Prancer is hanging in the Vola Lawson lobby at City Hall right now because she won a prize.
Nina has several fascinating mosaics on view.
Steven has a photograph called Crow's Calling which hypnotized me; I really could hardly take my eyes off it. It shows some headstones in Arlington National Cemetery which seem to be shining from within, although Steven says it was raining when he took the picture.
The luminous effect is the result of cross process — C41 film to E6 processing — Steven says, and I shall take his word for it.
Suzie Speck, Linda Lloyd, Christa Watters, Don Smith and Pat Durkin were some of the other guests admiring the family's productions.
— Lois Kelso Hunt