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Historic Black cemetery may get $100,000 renovation, pending Springfield City Council vote

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery on Chestnut Expressway in Springfield.
Gregory Holman
Lincoln Memorial Cemetery on Chestnut Expressway in Springfield.

The Springfield city council held its first public hearing on a project that could invest $100,000 of federal money into the restoration of a century-old cemetery serving Springfield's Black community.

In a city council meeting on October 17, the council discussed using American Rescue Plan Act funds for the upkeep of Lincoln Cemetery, founded for African Americans in 1919. Under segregation codes of the early 20th century, Black residents could not be buried next to white residents in Springfield’s public cemeteries. Lincoln Cemetery was established as a private cemetery so African Americans could be buried with honor.

The council’s job is to distribute federal ARPA money meant to help the city recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused economic disruption. Cheryl Clay, a vice president of the Springfield chapter of the NAACP, says, if approved, $100,000 of that money will go toward paving the gravel road in the cemetery, repairing large concrete urns and stabilizing headstones.

“Lincoln Memorial Cemetery is a private nonprofit," Clay said. "The maintenance and upkeep for the cemetery depends on donations. For the last two years, needless to say, we haven’t been able to have any fundraising to maintain the grounds.”

The cemetery is part of the African-American Heritage trail, which honors historic landmarks of Black achievement in Springfield. Other notable landmarks on the trail are the Lincoln School and the Jones Alley Business District.

In support of the restoration project, councilwoman Monica Horton quoted late councilman Denny Whayne, the first African American elected to Springfield city council in more than a century.

“This was his statement when this project came up: ‘The Lincoln Memorial Cemetery is a sign of identity and heritage for our community,’ and that’s how we think of it,” Horton said.

The Springfield city council will vote on funding for the project on November 14.

Josh Conaway is a graduate of Missouri State University with a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in International Affairs. He works as a news reporter and announcer at KSMU. His favorite part of the job is exploring the rich diversity of the Ozarks and meeting people with interesting stories to share. He has a passion for history and running.