Saint-Pierre cemetery is an anchor for Michelle Rutledge’s identity.
The cemetery is opposite St. Peter’s Baptist Church in the rural district of St. Peter, a historically black unincorporated Archer community. It is the final resting place for Rutledge’s father, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.
A long-time resident and St. Peter-St. Paul’s community council member Rutledge said families who settled in the run-up to the end of slavery founded the neighborhood. The pharmacologist said local cemeteries provide a way for others to learn about his heritage.
“If you look at African Americans in general, a lot of this story is not recorded, it has not been captured, or has it been lost in some way or another,” he said. declared Rutledge. “So we say, ‘Look, we’re actually still here. We have the opportunity to preserve that.
The Alachua County Historical Commission has documented 438 graves in St. Peter, dating back to 1886. Church deacons, veterans, and former slaves are all buried there.
The oldest relative Rutledge has found in the cemetery is his great-great-grandmother Lugenia Moss, born in 1889.
“Being able to say, ‘Yeah, I know my great-great-grandmother, she’s here, or my grandma, she’s here,'” said Rutledge, “that’s my anchor. It’s kind of my foundation.
Florida is working to recognize and maintain historic black cemeteries across the state.
In June, Governor Ron DeSantis passed legislation establishing a 10-member task force to search for such neglected and abandoned cemeteries. The task force began meeting in August and is expected to report to the state with findings and a strategic plan by January 1.
The bill describes how discriminatory practices have led to poor record keeping and the preservation of black burial sites. A Tampa Bay Times report has sparked increased attention to abandoned cemeteries following the unearthing of Zion Cemetery in Tampa Heights.
The Florida Department of State’s Historic Resources Division approved a landmark for St. Peter’s Cemetery in September. In collaboration with the county history commission, the community council drafts the text to be displayed on the marker.
Rutledge said a line will read ‘St. Peter’s Graveyard, just a stop on the glory, oh, won’t it be awe-inspiring. ‘”She added: Heritage. In the African American community, funerals and death are seen as a comeback. house It’s a celebration.
The goal of the council is to continue to preserve the history and culture of the community. Through partnerships with the Florida Public Archeology Network, which is represented on the state task force, the council has conducted cemetery cleanups and offered ancestry research workshops.
Nigel Rudolph, archaeologist for the network, led the events at St. Peter’s Cemetery to teach community members about the preservation and care of gravestones.
“They built it all,” Rudolph said. “The way I look at tombstones is that these are the last physical representations of these human beings who built the world we live in. “
Rudolph specializes in studying and documenting black cemeteries in central Florida, and said there are more than 30 in Alachua County. He is working to have St. Peter’s Cemetery properly classified as African American instead of white in the main Florida site file.
“People who don’t think too much about it probably wouldn’t care, but that’s not a minor mistake,” Rudolph said. “It’s an erasure of history.
He also said that these efforts should raise awareness about protecting the cemetery and the community.
“If we observe these places, we can illustrate the value of this history as a massive component of the greater history of the state and the United States,” he said. “This will help them anchor themselves. “
Gerie Crawford, president of the community council and retired deputy director of the Alachua County Judicial Services Department, said St. Peter was home to those fleeing the Rosewood Massacre of 1923, including members of his family. She remembers her great-uncle sharing stories about going underground in the woods while trying to get to safety before reaching Archer.
All of Crawford’s paternal parents – as well as his mother, sister and brother – are buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery.
“I can go there and see my story,” she said. “It is important to honor your ancestors, because without them, where would you be? Who would you be?
Crawford said historic markers such as the cemetery’s help give places that would otherwise be forgotten the recognition they deserve.
“Next time you might want to research something on Archer, you can check out something that can help tell our story,” she said.
Rosa Rutledge, the mother of Michelle Rutledge, is the seventh leader of the Female Protective Society, the oldest African American women’s organization in the county. It was founded in 1904 out of a need for appropriate burial policies and services in the community.
“We didn’t just wait for others to help us, we helped ourselves,” said Rosa Rutledge.
With four divisions across the county, including one in Archer, the organization has expanded its services to scholarships and a community building for funerals, weddings, and other gatherings.
“I like to say it’s a story that is over 100 years old,” said Rosa Rutledge. “The needs are pretty much the same, so we continue to take care of it the same way they did in the 1900s.”