That’s a picture from New Hope Baptist Cemetery in Gretna, La., about a half-mile from my house. It could be local Negro Leagues legend Wesley Barrow, a famed manager around these parts. But it might not. Who knows whose final resting place it is?
Yes, prepare for more morbid and macabre here, but this is a topic that just sticks in my craw. Several months ago, I wrote this post about how I combed through the cemetery looking for Barrow’s grave in what turned out to be a fruitless search. It was quite disheartening and, indeed, depressing, not just because I could find the grave of local hero Barrow, but because it gave me an up-close look at the plight of African-American cemeteries, not just here in the NOLA area, but across the country.
Another grave from New Hope cemetery
Over and over again, we see that historic black cemeteries, for whatever reasons, have fallen into disrepair and, in the process, that’s left the burial places of countless Negro League heroes unmarked and neglected. It’s given rise to the wonderful, nationally renowned Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project and other grass-roots movements to place markers at the graves of forgotten blackball stars.
I’ve done a few articles about the NLBGMP’s efforts and success here and here. This article, especially, was heartrending, because it also examined the sad state of the historic Frederick Douglass Memorial Park cemetery on Staten Island, which, in addition to being home to the previously unmarked resting place Sol White, had become a complete mess thanks to a tragic lack of funds and community involvement.
A pile of garbage at New Hope
That, perhaps, is what has happened here in Gretna at New Hope Cemetery, and in the process has apparently hidden the grave of Wesley Barrow, who has a stadium named after him here but nonetheless still, in some ways, can’t find dignity in death.
Here’s a page from a March 1945 issue of the Louisiana Weekly, the local African-American newspaper, showing an article and photo of Wesley Barrow, who was taking over the manager duties of the New Orleans Black Pelicans, the local entry in the Negro Southern League:
During his lifetime, Wesley Barrow was a popular, influential father figure to countless young black players and youth. I want to find his grave and hopefully help bring some final respect to his legacy.
Recently I’ve been seeing some upkeep and maintenance work being done at New Hope cemetery, so I decided to take another walk through the burial grounds, which happens to be right across Lafayette Street from a McDonald’s at which I’m now writing this post.
And indeed, since my last post, at least half of the cemetery has been spruced up, as evidenced by inspiring photos like these:
But in other spots, there’s still garbage strewn everywhere, including beer and liquor bottles, tipped over grave stones, and rows of plain, overgrown, unmarked, unkempt burial mounds like these:
Other aspects of the cemetery are simply heartbreaking, such as the fact that so many of the graves are for dozens and dozens of military veterans who deserve more than this. And then there are crushingly bittersweet burial spots like this one of a child, circled by flowers and covered with plush toes, like an orange tiger and Mickey Mouse:
But this one is the one that truly tore apart my heart, because it was so personal and so tragic:
But where is Wesley Barrow? Once again, I couldn’t find him. Now, there could be explanations for this: I have the wrong cemetery; I simply overlooked his grave; or his grave is marked but the stone is so faded or obscured that I couldn’t see it.
But in a way, I fear the worst. And I want to change that, but I’ll need help. If there’s anyone out there who can add to this effort or at least provide information, please leave a comment on this blog or e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.