RESCUING, AND TRANSFORMING, A NATIONAL MEMORIAL – THE PALM GROVE CEMETERY, MONROVIA, LIBERIA
By K.W. Brown, Jr.
The Bible recounts the following incident, from the life of King Josiah of Israel, in 2 Kings 23:17-18. “Then he said, “What gravestone is this that I see?” So the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” And he said, “Let him alone; let no one move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria.” Honorable treatment of the remains of ancestors is an age-old practice, across Planet Earth, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, nation, etc. Honorable treatment of the remains of departed ancestors has long been a practice, steeped in the culture of Liberians of all tribes, predating Liberia’s declaration of independence in 1847.
Ahh, but war, and periods of anarchy that accompany war, often have unintended consequences that are horrific. One of the aftermaths of Liberia’s troubles is widespread and terrible desecration, beyond the imagination, of Liberia’s foremost national cemetery, the Palm Grove Cemetery at Monrovia. Many graves have been dug up, caskets broken into, remains removed and discarded to unknown locations. In some instances, remains were burned – it’s horrible, beyond description. A few representative photos are included with this article (Figure 1), since “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” If you, or your family members, lived at Monrovia for some time, it’s highly likely that what you see may have impacted the grave and remains of one or more of your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, siblings, or possibly other family members.
Figure 1: Desecrated Remains at Palm Grove Cemetery, Monrovia, Liberia
The Figure 1 pictures are from Liberian Observer Online’s gallery, at https://www.facebook.com/pg/Liberian-Observer-Online-42279623238/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10151141923288239
That site is worth checking out, though heart rending, that you may better appreciate the enormity of what’s happened over the years.
What the pictures do not show, but what is well established from eyewitnesses, is that many graves were also used as dwelling places (!!!!), as toilets (!!!!) and more. Thus, the Palm Grove Cemetery, incorporated by an act of the Liberian Legislature in 1870, the Liberian nation’s largest, and one of its most famous memorial sites, has been turned into a disgrace, a nightmare, and a dishonorable eyesore. The locations of many remains of our ancestors, who were once buried there, are now unknown. It’s a terrible problem.
Also terrible is the fact that the Government of Liberia has no repository where the names and precise burial locations, of all once buried at the Palm Grove Cemetery, are documented! Without such a repository, no one knows in detail, the extent of impact (which bodies, how many, etc.) to surviving family members, of the desecration that has occurred!
Several past “attempts” to publicize and address this problem have been woefully ineffective. However, President Johnson-Sirleaf has now assigned the problem to one of Liberia’s most famous “doers,” Director Mary Broh, Head of the Presidential Taskforce mandated to beautify Monrovia. Director Broh has developed a comprehensive vision for the Palm Grove Cemetery location, to restore honor and dignity to the site, to make it a place where family members can visit, in pleasant surroundings, and readily see names and dates of those buried there over the years, etc. Her vision is to transform the site to the “Palm Grove Cemetery Memorial Park,” similar in concept to sites such as the “Vietnam War Memorial” at Washington, DC, USA. What exactly does that mean?
The existing Palm Grove Cemetery location will be zoned and restricted so that it will not now, or ever, be used for anything other than a memorial burial site. Any reports of plans to have the site repurposed for commercial purposes are, according to Director Broh, totally false. Every effort will be made to not disturb the remains of those buried there.
Undisturbed graves will be left, as they are – disinterment of remains will not be done – unless family members decide to have remains, that they select, relocated. However, there is neither pressure nor incentive from the Government of Liberia to relocate any remains.
The site will be maintained as a Memorial Park, with appropriate vegetation, walkways, etc., as illustrated in the artist illustrations included with this article (Figure 2 below).
The site will contain a “Memorial Wall,” where names and dates of those buried there will be recorded and maintained for posterity.
Figure 2: Artist Illustrations of Planned “Palm Grove Cemetery Memorial Park,” Monrovia, Liberia
The creation of the “wall” mentioned in point #4 above includes a challenge, and requires a call to action. The challenge? A repository is urgently required, that captures the names and birth/death dates, to the max extent possible, of all once buried at the Palm Grove Cemetery. That repository will be the database from which the Memorial Wall will be populated. Mr. Bill McKern (descendant of Melvin Beveridge Cox (of CWA fame)) initially used the Find-A-Grave free digital registry to create a dedicated webpage for Palm Grove Cemetery, at the internationally recognized "Find-A-Grave" website, and put in two names – J.J. Roberts and Melvin B. Cox. Mr. Earl Burrowes built on that foundation, populated the registry with the names of others he knew were buried there, and has encouraged others to add the names of their relatives/loved ones who were also buried there. That site is the defacto database of record for occupants (or one-time occupants) of Palm Grove Cemetery. The site, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gsr&GScid=2184783 currently has approximately 200 names, at the time of publication of this article – a fraction of the actual total of those buried there.
URGENT “Call to Action:” Our ancestors, and the nation of Liberia, needs surviving relatives – you, if you’re one – to as quickly as possible, access the website, and enter the information for any family members, or others that you know of who are not currently listed, who were once buried at the Palm Grove Cemetery. Simply stated, if you, or someone else in your family does not make that entry, the name of your relative(s) buried at the Palm Grove Cemetery will not be on the Memorial Wall, and the record of their burial may be lost for all time.
Registration to use the “Find A Grave” website is free. The steps are simple: (1) register, (2) activate, using a code that will be sent to the email address you provide upon registration, (3) login, (4) select the “Add Burial Records” first, and the “Family and Friends” links to get to a form where you can enter information about the desired person. (5) Enter the information you have. Most critical information is name, date of birth, date of death; places of birth and death also valuable, if you have them. You can include additional information (e.g. bio, picture), if you have them, or add such information at a later time. This site is a very important site. We did not have the means to prevent the travesty and tragedy that has already occurred. We do, however, have the means to assist the rescue and recovery of this most important national monument, to the honor of our ancestors and relatives. The process is simple, quick, and free. Please enter names of your loved ones – today.
Director Broh is leading the effort for the clean up, and set up of the Memorial Park. The new set up will include security arrangements to ensure, as GOD wills, that never again will such travesties as have occurred in the past be permitted to happen again. Please be a part of the solution – do what you can, including passing the word out – by word of mouth, posting a link to this article in social media, etc.
If you have difficulty with adding information to the site you may send the information you have to Director Broh’s task force, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please join in - let’s get this job done, together, now!