When I really want to do a good job on something, I sometimes have trouble getting out of the gate.
And I really want to do right by Andrea McCray and the Friends of Crystal Memorial Gardens.
Historic cemetery. Black heritage in Citrus County. Two topics of significant interest.
Today’s photo is of Andrea, a Crystal River native, standing in the cemetery where her family members are buried. The tombstones reflect names of Crystal River families: Bunch, Robinson, Balloon, Watkins, Lockley, and Wims, among them.
Crystal Memorial Gardens is located off Citrus Avenue, just outside the city limits.
As cemeteries go, it’s an old one. Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, founded in 1884 and is the county’s oldest Black church, started the cemetery. It was deeded to a community board of directors in the 1970s.
Segregation extended into death. Some cemeteries have Black sections. Some, like Crystal Memorial Gardens, inter only Black families.
(For details, read Nancy Kennedy’s Chronicle story about the cemetery, or the Friends’ website.)
Andrea has an idea to make the cemetery relevant. Not just to those Crystal River African-Americans whose loved ones are buried there.
But for us all. Let me explain.
In case you haven’t noticed, growth is gobbling up our county. Look up and down major roads and they’re stripped with national brands. Big names, no local soul.
We need our heritage protected now more than ever.
Meanwhile, Citrus County has one of the smallest Black populations in Florida. Its per capita rate is about 3%.
I always felt a little hypocritical writing that story for the Chronicle. I mean…talk about uncomfortable irony…white reporter asking a Black leader why there aren’t more Black residents in our community.
And I have a fond appreciation for Black communities within Citrus. In Inverness, I’ve witnessed Black neighborhoods swept away like dry leaves as folks die or move away.
A few months ago I saw something off Washington Steet that really caught my attention. This is an area of Inverness where the Rev. Leroy Bellamy and his descendants thrived for generations.
There’s a site being cleared for apartments. Across the street stands a sign in a field announcing it as the “Historical Home Site” of 12 Bellamys. I get it. They want newcomers to realize an entire community existed nearby.
So, when Andrea told me about her idea for Crystal Memorial Gardens, I got right behind it.
The cemetery needs upkeep and a survey. Several gravestones are in want for attention. Records are scarce. Some gravesites are unmarked. A master plan for the cemetery will keep it in good hands for generations.
They’d like to annex the cemetery into the city; after all the folks buried there were Crystal River residents who couldn’t be buried in the city because of their color.
We can’t forget these people. Buried in Crystal Memorial Gardens are Crystal River’s first Black schoolteachers, store owners, nurses, ministers, and neighborhood moms. Their names carry value today years after they’ve gone to the Lord.
The Friends of Crystal Memorial Gardens Cemetery Inc. is having its first fundraiser Saturday night, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Gala, at the College of Central Florida. Last I checked, tickets are still available.
I greatly admire Andrea and others who strive to preserve their heritage. It’s a dreamy-sounding thought, but a ton of work.
An effort that’s worthy of community support.
— I attended the funeral Thursday morning for an old friend, Jacqui Frazee, who was a 30-year-plus member of Seven Rivers Church, and quite the character.
When Nancy Kennedy introduced me to Jacqui, it was in the latter months of my drinking and few people had any confidence I was going to survive.
Here’s what Jacqui did: She made sure I didn’t die.
Not only did she call frequently and send uplifting emails, Jacqui brought me prepared food that only had to be popped into the oven for 45 minutes. I’ll never forget her Shepherd’s Pie.
It was personal. She became “Aunt Jacqui.” I was “Neph.”
She kept in touch after I quit drinking, always sending emails on my birthday and sober anniversary. At her service Thursday, I learned Jacqui was that way with the many people she loved.
I said this a few weeks ago in referring to my friend, Father Tom Morgan: There are some people, and Jacqui was one of them, who I think, “Yeah, that’s what Jesus had in mind.”
Rest in peace, A.J. Love, Neph.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.