Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Block 27, Stockton Rural Cemetery

In a previous blog post back in March of 2015, I touched on the subject of Block 27 within the Stockton Rural Cemetery. I also proved that it was NOT a segregated "colored only" section, despite the fact that it has been erroneously spread as such.

Apparently the truth wasn't good enough for some individuals who went ahead and contacted the news to tell a different story to the press. Before anyone knew it, Fox40, KCRA and even the Stockton Record did segments on the alleged "racial" story that Block 27 was the "colored" section of the cemetery, where the early African-American pioneers were buried there and forgotten, while their graves were purposely neglected. The news jumped on the story without even bothering to see if it was true. I don't know about you, but that says a lot about where journalism is going today, doesn't it?

I am also a journalist, I also write for a newspaper as well as my own blogs, but I have integrity for what I write about, and I refuse to tell a story without checking on the facts and finding proof to back it up or debunk the claim before telling others about it. Unfortunately it seems most "professionals" today don't do their homework, leaving it up to people like me, the ones who actually go out there and do the research to tell the truth for the world to read for themselves.  

First off, if anyone who reads this blog feels the need to fact check my findings, feel free to do so. In fact, I encourage it! People need to start questioning what they read and what they see on the news and in the newspapers, books, and at schools and colleges. Do not believe everything you are told, even if it comes from what you expect to be a reliable source. More often than not, people just don't do their homework and keep regurgitating the same old stories over and over without even trying to see whether or not it was fact or fiction.

History of the Cemetery

Before we dive into the whole "Block 27" issue, lets go into a short history of Stockton Rural Cemetery, shall we? 

The land the cemetery is on was originally owned by Captain Weber. Stockton Rural Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Stockton. According to the History of Stockton  by George Henry Tinkham, Captain Weber deeded the land for the cemetery to "rural associates" who then brought in plants and trees to make the cemetery more like a park. When Captain Weber was still alive, he was often seen there in the cemetery spending a lot of his time working on the grounds. In his older years he was more reserved and spent a lot of time gardening and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the cemetery as well as other gardens. 

History of Block 27

In 1862, Reverend Jeremiah King approached the trustees of the Rural Cemetery asking for a place for members of his congregation to be buried together. The trustees allowed King and members of his congregation to be buried in the non-endowment section, along with everyone else who could not afford to pay endowment care fees. Perhaps at one time they considered that small area within Block 27 to be a "colored section" for that particular church group, but Block 27 as a whole was not a segregated section of the cemetery. No, it was just an non-endowment care area just like Block 36 and Block 14 that are adjacent to Block 27 on both sides.

Even the Stockton Pioneers book written by the late Glenn Kennedy, who was a long time part of the history of Stockton Rural Cemetery even mentioned the fact that from the time Reverend King requested a spot for his people, that they had "reserved a special place" at their request. Did you catch that?  They granted a request, meaning they wanted to be buried together, not that they were forced to, and not because of segregation. In fact he went on to add that Reverend King was "loved and respected by all the people of the community as a builder of men."  If anyone knew the relationship Reverend King had with people in Stockton they would know that he was a respected man, and even Captain Weber himself gave King the land for the African Baptist Church. 

It appears that the earlier African-American settlers who were buried at Stockton Rural Cemetery chose to be buried next to one another, not because of being forced to due to segregation but instead because they wanted to.  Reverend Jeremiah King requested that they all be buried together and the cemetery granted the request.   

All those who were buried in Block 27 were not all African-American either. No, in fact there are many burials and headstones in that block that are Caucasian, and I have done the research to prove this.  

What about the rumored 300-700 unmarked graves?

There have been rumors spread within a few news articles that Block 27 holds the remains of several hundreds (somewhere along the lines of 300- 700) of African-Americans that are unmarked. I believe this to be false. This rumor started in a newspaper article in the Record.net back in 2006, yet when I have written the cemetery, its manager and its trustees to question them about that subject as well as many other things, they have failed to respond time and time again. 

Could it be because they actually have no proof of these alleged "unmarked" graves? I think so.

Personally, it doesn't seem possible given the size of the area that encompasses Block 27 along with the graves that are already there, to have that many people buried there without any markers or any additional information. Another fact we must consider is that from 1860, 1870, 1880 and even up to the turn of the century, there weren't more than a few hundred African-Americans total living in the entire county, let alone Stockton. 

If you look at the chart below, the circled numbers show going backwards from 1880, 1870 & 1860 the population of African-Americans in San Joaquin County. As you can see during 1860 there were 126, In 1870 there were 223 and in 1880 there were 328.

If you read my earlier blog about the first African-American churches you would see that by 1880 there were only 16 adults and 30 children in attendance at the African Baptist Church, while there were 19 adults and 28 children attending the African Methodist Church in 1880.  These numbers correlate these statistics below. Remember the list below shows all African-Americans in the county, not just Stockton. It is safe to say more than likely even by 1880 there weren't more than a few hundred, if even that many living in Stockton who were African-American, adults and children included. With these statistics in mind it would be mathematically impossible that there were so many hundreds of unmarked graves of African-Americans buried there.   

Personally I think someone down the line has confused this "unmarked" grave story with the forgotten graves on the other side of the fence facing California Street. That open space beyond the chain link fence was once one of the two burial grounds that once belonged to the State Hospital and now it is just a forgotten field, with hundreds and upwards to thousands of remains buried there, literally forgotten in time. You see, that is a story worth looking into, and one with actual proof that it exists.- Please see: History of Stockton State Hospital Cemetery & Its Decline

So far I have recorded about half of the visible graves in Block 27 and what I have found has proven to be more interesting than any conjured up story! There appears to be just as many Caucasian burials as African-Americans in this block which disproves the "colored-section" theory.

The truth shall set you free

The area that is known as Block 27 is simply a non-endowment area, meaning that it is not maintained like an endowment care area is supposed to be. If people are looking for someone to blame about the non-endowment care areas, you really can't blame anyone, not for that. Back when Stockton Rural Cemetery was established, the area was dry in the summer and plush during the other seasons. There was no irrigation systems for that part of the cemetery. The people who purchased plots there knew what they were getting, a dry spot on the east side of the cemetery. 

Pioneers graves buried for years (block 26 & 28 areas)

Time and the elements haven't been kind to some of the headstones, especially the ones flat to the surface of the ground. As time went on and little to no maintenance done, eventually many of the flat stones have been buried under overgrowth of grass, weeds or dirt. Again, this isn't anything you won't find at other cemeteries with non-endowment sections. (ex: Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland). If you look at many of the nicer monument headstones, a lot of them are African-Americans too, not just the Caucasian headstones. Like I said, it wasn't about color, it was about money.

See the overgrown hedges? This is in an endowment care area. 
There are plenty of other areas in the cemetery that are considered to be endowment care areas and they are in worse condition than Block 27. The cemetery staff have failed at keeping sight of the fact their job is to maintain a historic cemetery, not just a business. By the way, the cemetery is a non-profit but seems to act like they are a for-profit business. They have plenty of assets and money to be keeping up the historic grounds of the cemetery properly yet they fail to do so. The areas where they sell plots and have funerals is always kept up nicely, but the other parts of the cemetery are forgotten, even in the areas that were paid for endowment care.

In Block 26, 28 and 35, which are endowment care areas, there are headstones of early pioneers laying flat in the dirt and encased in years of mud build up, basically cementing them into the ground. Broken stones covered by twigs and leaves intentionally by the landscaping staff at the cemetery and no one is doing a news story about that. These were the original pioneers of Stockton, the 49ers who came during the Gold Rush. Their graves are forgotten, broken and ignored. Where is the outrage over that? What about the pioneers buried there? Are they less important that those in Block 27? No. 

What about the west end of the cemetery, at Blocks 19 and 22? They have been clearly neglected for years, with dirt, debris, leaves and build up covering row after row of flat markers. What about the family crypts that are not protected from thievery, or the plots such as the E.S. Holden plot or Stewart-Smith plot, where the hedges are so overgrown you cannot even reach the crypts or monuments from their entrances? 

Sections 19 & 22 (west side) are in worse shape than Block 27
Where's the outrage??
Everyone deserves to be remembered and everyone deserves to have their resting places treated with care and respect. Sadly, the staff at the cemetery doesn't seem interested in preserving the history of the cemetery and it appears that the only time the cemetery staff fix anything is when you report them to the state for not doing their jobs. When and only when the staff starts treating all areas of the cemetery as a historic ground that needs some TLC and preservation, and when they step up to the plate and fix the entire cemetery, not just one block, will all these deceased residents of Stockton Rural truly be vindicated. But I don't see this happening any time soon. Instead they choose to look the other way. The saying, "out of sight, out of mind" seems to come to my mind for some reason. 

In the end, the facts are the facts and neither you nor I can change that to suit an agenda. There are African-Americans buried in Block 27, but there are African-Americans buried all over the cemetery from Block 26, Block 14, Block 35, as well.  And remember this, there are Caucasians buried in Block 27, too, meaning it was not the "colored section." 

I hope this article will settle the segregation debate once and for all. I suggest that next time a news channel or newspaper reporter decides to do a story on this subject that they at least do a little homework before hand.

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio) Originally posted June, 2015
Photos by: R. Boulware & J. Rubio

All research and data compiled by J. Rubio
All photos are copyright protected.

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission by the author/publisher, J’aime Rubio

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