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Rep. Al Lawson, community members honor the fallen at Greenwood Cemetery

Posted at 11:15 AM, May 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-31 11:15:55-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Rep. Al Lawson, The Buffalo Soldiers, and Tallahassee's 100 Black spent Memorial Day morning replacing flags on graves in Greenwood Cemetary.

It's been five years since Rep. Al Lawson first gathered a group to refresh the flags at Greenwood in what's now a tradition deeply rooted in community.

"Every year it's grown and grown," said Lawson. "When we first started out five years ago, it was only very few of us, and it was very difficult to do the cemetery with over 300 and something veterans that was here."

This Memorial day, upwards of 50 community members and leaders volunteered, along with the Buffalo Soldiers, who've attended all five years.Frank Williams is one of those soldiers and shares why remembering the fallen is part of their mission.

"They gave something that no one can ever get back, and that's their time to serve our country for the protection of America for it to be the country that it is today," Williams explains. "It's a privilege to come out and honor them."

But Williams remembers something more. He was part of a vast community effort in 1986 to revive Greenwood Cemetery after what's noted on the City of Tallahassee website as "neglect and deterioration."

For many years, Greenwood was the only place black people could be buried. Williams credits former Mayor Dot Inman-Johnson with leading the charge of restoration.

"The cemetery was in such a deplorable condition it didn't even look like a cemetery," Inman-Johnson said. "The roots of oak trees and other trees had grown over a lot of the grave sites."

At that time the city didn't want to take on the upkeep, but, "What I did was call on the citizens of Tallahassee to form a city wide committee of volunteers to work, and ask construction companies to donate equipment," Inman-Johnson said.

They started working each Saturday during the fall of that year, and then, "By the spring of the year we had the cemetery up to a standard that we felt the city should be happy to come in and take over," said Inman-Johnson.

That restoration paved the way for the Memorial Day tradition we see today, now five years strong, with no signs of stopping.

"And so the city has done a good job of keeping it up and so we look forward to continuing to work on it and eventually clean all the headstones and everything that we have out here," Lawson says.

Rep. Lawson has organized the event and he says he's proud to see continued and growing community participation.