Woodlawn Cemetery in Compton, now Woodlawn’s Heavenly Gardens, turns trauma into triumph

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Celestine bishop has been riding a wave of emotions for 19 months. On Mother’s Day 2020, she visited Woodlawn Cemetery in Compton, Calif., To find that the grounds where her mother and family were buried had been abandoned.

Wild grasses and tree branches covered his mother’s grave and gravestone, which was enough to make Bishop cry. After posting a heartbreaking video on Facebook showing a whole messy graveyard, Bishop got to work.

“When I came to clean, I wasn’t just cleaning for my family, I was cleaning for everyone,” Bishop explained in an interview with leGrio. “We started at the entrance and the plan was to go around – one section at a time – that’s how I got the name of one of my nonprofits.”

Celestina Bishop with volunteer Rocio Alvarado (Credit Bishop)
Ernesta Procope - theGrio.com

When she was 2, Bishop was the only one spared after her mother and three sisters were killed in their South Central home. Bishop has taken on a huge responsibility because she feels deeply connected to the cemetery where her family is buried.

Initially, Bishop tried to contact Woodlawn’s owner, but the number listed had been disconnected. When she finally made contact, he saw the progress she was making and gave her full access to the property.

“I didn’t clean the cemetery myself, it was a variety of people. I spearheaded the movement and when you’re a great leader people follow, ”Bishop said. “Not to follow because they are looking for something to admire, they are looking for something that they can be a part of.”

Celestina Bishop thegrio.com
Celestina Bishop with LA County Assessor Jeff Prang (Photo via Jeff Prang)

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As Bishop began to familiarize herself with the world of graveyard management and bookkeeping, she says she doesn’t put all the blame on the previous owner.

The idea that she owns the cemetery came to her very early in the restoration process. The previous owner told Bishop he was looking to donate the property to a local nonprofit. She asked him to give her three months to collect her papers to form her non-profit organization.

One important detail was omitted, however, that the property had a huge backlog of taxes. Bishop was able to get some of these fees reduced, but was still forced to provide $ 20,000.

She initially felt disappointed and betrayed by the previous owner, but luckily she was able to pay the taxes in October.

A dedication ceremony is scheduled for January 2022 to honor family and friends buried at the cemetery. The day is also set to officially announce the new name, as well as the successful transfer of ownership to Bishop’s nonprofit, Woodlawn Celestial Gardens.

Unfortunately, the City of Compton did not approve a parking permit application. Bishop says the town continues to provide little help or support in his efforts to save a local cemetery.

Founded in 1870 as the Compton Rural Cemetery, Woodlawn is one of the oldest cemeteries in Los Angeles County and was named a Cultural Landmark in 1946. The cemetery is a resting place for people ranging from veterans to civil war to Compton pioneers and local families.

Los Angeles Black Panther Minister of Defense Alprentice Bunchy Carter is buried in Woodlawn, with Francis Townsend, which spearheaded the concept that would become social security.

“You have artists, Black League players, actors and my family that is buried in this cemetery,” Bishop said. “And nobody cared.”

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