One of the oldest black cemeteries in Miami-Dade County is Lincoln Memorial Park at 3001 N.W. 46th Street. Luminaries and many black pioneers who helped shape the cultural landscape of early Miami are laid to rest there. On the 20-acre property, there are thousands of people who have been laid to rest in one of the three Miami cemeteries with above-ground burials vaults.
Shrouded in mystery, fact, and myth have blended together to tell the story of Lincoln Memorial Park. According to urban myth, the cemetery was founded in the early 1920s by a white realtor named F. B. Miller. Legend has it that the first black embalmer in Miami, Kelsey Leroy Pharr would cut down lynching victims he found hanging in trees and would secretly bury them at night. He did this at his own personal risk so they would have a dignified resting place. As the story goes, one-night Mr. Miller discovered Kelsey Pharr performing one of these burials and, instead of being irate, was taken by his compassion. Shortly thereafter Mr. Miller deeded the property over to Mr. Pharr at a highly discounted price, making Mr. Pharr one of the only blacks to own a cemetery in the south.
What is known for sure is that F. B. Miller established Lincoln Memorial Park by 1923. By the fall of 1923, Mr. Pharr began purchasing pieces of the cemetery from Mr. Miller. The Pharr Funeral Home Books record their first burials there. Eventually, the 20 acres were consolidated into one property under Pharr’s ownership by 1937. At this time, Lincoln Memorial Park was touted as “The Finest Colored Cemetery in the South.”
Luminaries such as D. A. Dorsey, Miami’s first African American millionaire, H. E. S. Reeves, founder of Miami’s first black newspaper, and Arthur and Polly Mays, activists for education and the everyday laborers were all buried by Pharr.
Up until his death in 1964, he remained actively involved with Lincoln Memorial Park. Even though he had a son living in South Carolina, at the time of his death, the ownership of the property was passed to Ellen Johnson. Johnson a longtime friend was a nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Under her ownership, the property was designated as historic by Dade County.
She maintained the beauty and integrity until the late 1990’s when she developed Alzheimer’s. It became more and more difficult for her to maintain the property and quickly the property fell into disrepair.
Up until the time of her death in 2015, the cemetery continued to fall into disrepair. When she died, she passed the ownership of the cemetery to her niece, Jessica Williams. Between 2015 and 2017 she did what she could to maintain Lincoln Memorial Park. Tired of the uphill battle, she partnered with the Coral Gables Museum in an effort to restore the cemetery and reclaim the title as being one of the most beautiful African American cemeteries in the South.
Photographic by Coral Gables Museum.