I haven’t been posting as much as I should. I have been busy working on my tree and doing research for a friend/distant cousin. And to be honest I was hit with a major disappointment that left me not wanting to do much of anything. But, as usual, I moped for a while and then decided to get back at it. After all, spring has sprung and I can’t sit around doing nothing while something I care about is being harmed.
Some thirty odd years ago I learned that my great grandfather had died in a mental institution. My PawPaw was only six years old at the time so he really didn’t know much about it. Therefore, my dad didn’t know much either. His grandparents had a total of ten children. Five of those died before the age of three. Why they died is not know. I can’t help but believe this was part of the problem.
I have been told that he became mean. The important word in that statement is became. This is a family known for being kind, gentle and compassionate. It is also said at some point he plowed under a crop of corn just before it was to be harvested. He was sent to Central Louisiana State Hospital in Pineville. He died three months later and was buried there.
This all happened during a time when mental illness was not understood. Many conditions were misdiagnosed as mental illness when they were not. It was also a time when someone could be sent away for almost any reason.
Mental illness in a family was something to be ashamed of and neighbors would shun not only the patient but the family as well. My poor great-grandmother was left to bring up five children on her own without any help. The family lived on a farm close to the Arkansas line and were for the most part isolated. The oldest son, who was sixteen, would become the man of the house and took on the job of bringing up his younger brothers.
I also know my dad was named for his grandfather and spent most of his life wondering about him. The one thing he wanted to know most was where he was buried.
In those days you couldn’t jump in the car and drive to Pineville for a visit and be back home for dinner. Central might well have been on the other side of the country. I have no idea how long he had been dead before his family found out but I have heard stories of people coming to visit just to be told their loved one had died a week before and was already buried.
My family did not know of a cemetery on the grounds or where the patients were buried. I was determined to find out. At first it was for my dad but over the years I began to want my own answers.
I made many, many phone calls just to be told there were no records from 1909. If there was only one rude person at Central I always seemed to get that person.
We would eventually move to Alexandria across the Red River from Pineville. Now that I didn’t have to pay long distance charges I started calling again. I got the same old answers over and over again. That was when my mother saw an article in the local newspaper about a memorial service held at the cemetery each year. We all loaded up in the car and went to Central. We found the cemetery and my dad finally got to see his grandfather’s burial site. My only regret is that he never got to see the marker we had placed there.
Two years ago I learned about the committee to preserve the cemetery. I knew right away I wanted to help and jumped in. I set up a Facebook page and website/blog for the committee and went about helping them raise funds. It was and is a mission I am very passionate about.
Over time I began to hear from other people. People just like me. They wanted to know where someone was buried. They would tell me their stories and each time my heart would break.
Each and every time I would contact Sylvia, my buddy and the keeper of the list. I never asked the race of the person we were searching for and Sylvia never asked me. We simply went about giving someone a little piece of mind.
I was told early on that the cemetery was segregated. The blacks were buried in one section laid north to south and the white were buried in another laid east to west. I never thought to ask which section was which.
In my world it is unacceptable to have almost three thousand people buried in unmarked graves. I am disturbed by anyone not having a marker on their grave.
Not long ago we discovered a black man who was very influential in Cajun music was buried at Central. We were all very hopeful that some of the musicians he inspired would want to help.
As it turns out one of them showed up at our last meeting. He wanted to help but he also wanted a monument placed for the musician. Before he would agree to help us he insisted on an agreement about the monument. I did not and do not feel that is appropriate and voiced my concerns.
Our mission is to bring dignity to all the people buried there. In my opinion each and every one of them is just as important as the others. I don’t want any one person singled out. Our plan was to place one large monument with all the names. I feel like the people in that cemetery were treated as though they didn’t matter in life and now we are doing the same thing to them again.
That was when our guest said I was being prejudice. I don’t agree. I want the black lady who was taken from her home in the middle of the night because she had an argument with her employer to have the same respect as this musician. I feel that every single person in that cemetery was important. They were all loved by someone. They all deserve to be treated as well as all the others.
It now looks like our guest will help us raise money. Funds they collect will first provide a granite plaque at the museum for the musician. Funds above that will be applied to our memorial. He will also buy a glass case for the museum and donated artifacts of the musician to be displayed.
My heart is broken. I have asked people to give money for a memorial for all the people buried there. I have listened to the stories and some of those people have sent money in memory of a grandparent they searched for over many years. How do I explain why this man gets a special plaque? How do I make them understand that their money was not used to put it there? How do I prevent them from feeling like their family member wasn’t as important as this man?
I know in my heart that the people I am working with are good people. They have worked for this memorial for years and it is very important to them. I understand that they are only trying to get more donations and they see this as a way of doing so. Their hearts are in the right place. The problem is they don’t have someone buried there. They don’t see it through the eyes of a family member. They don’t have any idea how much this hurts me and will hurt all the other families.
My biggest fear is this will cause hard feelings and it will have the opposite outcome of what they want. I am afraid that people will stop giving.
So that explains why my get up and go has got up and gone. In the end I will get my stride back. I will start writing again and continue to raise money for the memorial. I just need a little time.