Now it was time to return to Rogers Cemetery to document the graves and take photos. I still feel a bit guilty for initially thinking about the place in negative terms. It may not have fancy gates or a gazebo, but Rogers Cemetery is just as important as Rogers-Bell Cemetery. A lot less is known about the people buried in Rogers Cemetery. Supposedly, there are Indian graves there but I did not see any.
In appearance, Rogers Cemetery is the opposite of Rogers-Bell. It seems to be haphazardly maintained. Someone placed a few crude cement benches near the largest tree, where most of the graves are located. The rest are on the other side of the clearing. This is where I believe the oldest graves might be located but they are probably buried in mud. Scraggly weeds are everywhere. But clearly people do come to visit these graves or the benches wouldn’t be there.
I was surprised to find that most of the graves I found dated from the 1890s and later. But it occurred to me that the quality of the markers from before this time probably wasn’t very good. Wood was the primary material for grave markers of poorer families and it didn’t last that long. Stones cost money and they didn’t have much. There were a few broken graves and some I couldn’t read.
The oldest grave I could find was for Ellen Rogers Carter, who was born just before the Civil War began. By looking on Ancestry.com, I discovered that by the time of the 1880 U.S. Census, Ellen was working as a servant for the Anderson family. This was post-Reconstruction, when life for former slaves and their families wasn’t much better than it had been under slavery. What was her life like? When did she marry? I wasn’t able to find that out. Several of the graves had military markers on them, most of them for the Navy.
Now for the snakes. Many of you know I have a great dread of snakes due to an incident from my teens when I accidentally (and stupidly) stepped on a copperhead in my driveway. The result was a visit to the ICU and a five-day hospital stay. So let’s just say I think the best kind of snake, near me anyway, is a dead one.
One of the first graves I found was surrounded by a very low wooden enclosure. Due to the autumn conditions, a lot of leaves were covering the gravestone. As I brushed some leaves off the gravestone, I saw the unmistakable scaly texture of a garden snake. And nearly jumped out of my skin in the process.
When I realized that the snakes were fake (and my heart rate slowly returned to normal), the questions started. Why would someone place rubber snakes on both sides of someone’s gravestone? To keep nosy cemetery hoppers like me away? Maybe Bebe liked snakes or his friends and family were a protective lot. Who knows?
I created a new page for Rogers Cemetery, also with a brief bio and map. The bio is brief because next to nothing is known about it. Hopefully, because of my work, someone trying to find a loved one will look them up on FiAG, locate the grave and be able to visit it.
Rogers and Rogers-Bell are an example of a common situation in the South. As most public places were, cemeteries were segregated until the 1950s. The races were not supposed to mix in life or in death. My guess is that someone in the white land-owning families provided land for the freed blacks who had worked on John Rogers plantation. An integrated cemetery was unheard of at the time.
Black cemeteries are often abandoned and in poor shape because there is no one left to care for them. Their history tends to be a mystery because little is recorded about them. African-Americans migrating from the South to Northern industrial cities for work took their family histories with them. That is a great shame because surely there are stories about the people buried there. But they may never be known.
If you want to know what kind of satisfaction I get from cemetery hopping, I would point to this kind of experience. I like knowing that someone, somewhere can trace their family tree better because of my efforts. Doesn’t seem like much. But if you’re trying to figure out where you came from and how you got where you are today, that discovery can mean something special.
And if surviving some fake snakes is necessary in the process, it’s worth it.