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How a search for mom saved this historic Black cemetery in South Florida

The Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Brownsville.
Carl Juste
Miami Herald
The Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Brownsville.

Jessie Wooden came to Brownsville looking for his mother’s grave.

What he discovered was a piece of Miami history — covered in weeds and in disrepair.

Jessie found the grave marker for his late mother at Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery. It’s an all-Black cemetery built at a time when South Florida was segregated in life and in death.

Over the decades, the cemetery had been neglected if not forgotten. But it’s a place rich in South Florida history. Buried there is Miami’s first African-American millionaire, D.A. Dorsey. So is Gwen Cherry, the first African-American woman elected to the Florida legislature, and Henry Reeves, who found the Miami Times newspaper.

Also buried there are victims of lynchings from South Florida’s Jim Crow past.

Jessie bought the cemetery in 2020. He’s taken the lead in restoring Lincoln Memorial.

Over the years, efforts have been made to highlight the history of the cemetery. Now there’s a new one. An exhibit titled “A Call to the Ancestors” opened at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex over the weekend and it's open until November 23. It takes audiences inside the cemetery, highlighting its history and the effort to restore it.

Jessie hopes to save this piece of South Florida history before it disappears from sight — and from memory.

On the Sep. 18 episode of Sundial, he joined us to talk about this powerful story that's not only historical, but also personal.

On Sundial's previous episode, Siham Inshassi joined us. She is a recipient of this year’s Emerging Writer Fellowship from the Miami Book Fair. She's writing her first novel and she joins us to talk about how she’s honing her voice in Miami.

Listen to Sundial Monday through Thursday on WLRN, 91.3 FM, live at 1 p.m., rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Missed a show? Find every episode of Sundial on your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify.

Carlos Frías is a bilingual writer, a journalist of more than 25 years and the author of an award-winning memoir published by Simon & Schuster.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.
Elisa Baena is a former associate producer for Sundial.