New book highlights African Americans buried at Mount Hope Cemetery

New book highlights African Americans buried at Mount Hope Cemetery

February 12, 2020 0 By Kailee Schamberger


They don’t know the exact number of
people here. It’s very hard because the record-keeping wasn’t that good in the
old days, but there are over 300,000 people here, and I tell people
there’s over 300,000 stories. I became interested in some of the lesser-known people, but I also met people like Carolyn, you know, that know all the
people that are buried in here that passed away more recently, so that’s kind
of why this book started. I didn’t realize the extent of history that was African American history that was buried on these grounds, but it is a
magnificent story, so it’s deeper. Obviously, I knew about Frederick
Douglass and his family because that was well-documented, including the
Spragues, Rosetta and and Nathan Sprague. Rosetta was
Douglass’ daughter.
But it’s fascinating. 370, 67 and 1/2 … OK, so it should be down this way. Reverend Thomas James of the Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, which is the oldest
African American church here in the area, he’s buried in here, and it’s included in
this book. The church leadership sent him everywhere to help shore up churches
in other places. That’s it. You got it. And then he was sent to New Bedford,
Massachusetts, and that’s where the magic happened in terms of his connection with
Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass was just recently arrived and settled in New Bedford and had just started speaking out about his situation, escape
from slavery. Thomas James puts him in front of his first white audience to
give that story and he becomes a lecturer on the abolitionist movement.
And Thomas James recommends that he comes to Rochester, and Rochester becomes his home, and that’s what you see throughout this book are different
connections. (Bell chimes) Now, Frederick Douglass was a person that went out and tried to get as many African American men as possible to enlist, and Ferdinand Cunningham
did come all the way up to Massachusetts because of Frederick
Douglass and enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts. Now any Civil War buff has
probably seen the movie “Glory,” and that’s about the 54th Massachusetts and
their battle at Fort Wagner. Here in Rochester, New York, you have a man, Ferdinand Cunningham, who enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts. Was in that group at
Fort Wagner and survived it. Came back to Rochester. Became a barber, as many of
them did. Became very important in his community. Was on the committee to help
choose a statue for Frederick Douglass, which was the first statue dedicated to
an African American in the United States. It’s good for younger
people and all people to realize that some of these stories that we are …
historical things that we know about, there’s people right here that
participated in it. Any history documentation that’s done about African
American community members and what they have accomplished, it adds to the value.
That gives value to people. Reading history and knowing what your people,
your forefathers and others have contributed and that they found a way to
bring value to your life; if you have that within you, I think it gives you
courage to go forward and make changes yourself that are positive.
And that’s what I hope that they come away with is a better feeling
about themselves.