Historical marker to be placed at Essie J. Handy cemetery Monday

Published 5:00 pm Thursday, April 4, 2019

LaFAYETTE — The Essie J. Handy Memorial Cemetery in LaFayette will be etched in history forever after Monday morning.

On Oct. 17 of last year, the cemetery was placed on the Alabama Historical Register, and on Monday morning at about 10 a.m., a marker will be erected outside of the cemetery by the Essie J. Handy Cemetery Association.

The association’s executive director Charlotte Blasingame said beautifying the cemetery has been a passion project of hers. She said nobody was doing anything to perverse it or help it stand out as an important site in LaFayette. Now, there are flowers lined around the cemetery, the grass is cut and it just looks better, she said.

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“The revitalization and restoration of it have been awesome,” Blasingame said. “People are taking pride in the cemetery.”

Monday morning’s ceremony will be Blasingame’s final event as executive director of the cemetery association because she was recently elected to the LaFayette City Council. Due to the fact the city owns the property, it would be a conflict of interest for Blasingame to operate the association and serve on the city council.

Just because she won’t be the executive director doesn’t mean she won’t keep a close eye on it, especially since it is in District B, the district Blasingame was elected to represent.

“We will continue trying to make the community a better place to live,” she said.

Monday’s event will feature comments from Blasingame, Mayor Barry Moody, Councilman Toney Thomas, and President of the cemetery association Terry Mangram. A representative from the state historical society will also be in attendance to unveil the new marker.

In 1940, Essie Jones Handy’s son, Ralph, died of Tuberculosis, and the only place Handy could bury her son in LaFayette was the Gresham Cemetery on 1st Avenue. That was the only cemetery where black people could be buried in the South during segregation, according to the marker to be placed Monday.

Ralph Handy was one of 10 Handy children, and they realized after burying him that there was not enough room in Gresham for an ample family plot.

Handy then went throughout the community, asking for contributions to purchase land from a judge at the time for a new African-American cemetery.  She bought land at what is now 402 B Street SW to start a new cemetery where her family and the families of other African Americans in Chambers County could be buried in 1949. That same year, she had her son’s body exhumed and transferred to the new cemetery.

Handy then went onto be recognized as a civil rights leader in the area, as he met President Lyndon B. Johnson and was invited to his Inauguration in 1965. She operated and took care of the cemetery until her death in 1977. Afterward, it was deeded to the city of LaFayette for $1.