Walking through the cemetery you must watch where they are stepping as it is entirely possible to step into one of the many open graves. Headstones are sideways, fallen backward and large tree branches lie across graves.

With rotten wood and only half-standing, a wooden baby’s crib borders a grave. On a small marble stone with purple handwriting commemorates a one-year-old girl who died in 1968. Other graves are edged with scalloped concrete borders usually found in flowerbeds. It is not unusual to find cheap, small ceramic crosses and angels. One grave has a tin sign that is smaller than a license plate that says, “Louise Shubert 1916 1976.”

The first black millionaire, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, who founded the Afro-American Insurance Company in 1901 created the Memorial Cemetery Association. He created his life insurance company when life insurance was unavailable to black Americans. His goal was to provide burial space for black residents that were excluded from “white cemeteries.” The association cared for four black cemeteries in North Jacksonville one of which was Mount Olive developed by “Charley Edd” Craddock a local businessman.

At the Mount Olive Cemetery, most of the grave markers are from the 1950s through the 1970s. The oldest grave is that of Flora V. Shaver, 1896-1897.

Mr. Lewis’s insurance went out of business in 1990 and so did the cemetery association. This also left no governmental body or ownership entity to maintain the graves of once-prominent citizens or their improvised neighbors.

The cemeteries along Moncrief Road now contain open graves, vodka and gin bottles and drug paraphilia, culminating into the county paupers’ cemetery. Jacksonville’s five paupers’ cemeteries include Memorial Cemetery, Greenwood Cemetery, Pinehurst Cemetery, Mount Herman Cemetery, and Mount Olive Cemetery.

The cemeteries are up for sale, but no one will buy them, especially when they find out they would be responsible for years of back taxes. With no one owning the land, no one paying property taxes, no one is protected in their final resting place.

Photographic by WJCT News.

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