Welcome to the first installment of Exhibit Columbia. This week I present to you the Columbia Cemetery: the largest, the oldest and the only historic rural cemetery in town.
Columbia Cemetery was established in 1820 as a popular burying ground even before the city was established, making it the oldest business in Columbia. Located on East Broadway near Grant Elementary School, Columbia Cemetery is owned and operated by the Columbia Cemetery Association, a not-for-profit private organization founded in 1853. On February 1, 2007, Columbia Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.
The heart and essence of Columbia Cemetery remain in the people that are commemorated and buried in the cemetery. Overlooking downtown Columbia and the University of Missouri – Columbia (MU) campus, The Cemetery is the resting place of many notable and distinguished people including state senators, supreme court judges, former presidents of MU and Stephens College, faculty and curators. (If you would like to learn more about MU’s former presidents, faculty and curators who were buried here, please visit this website.)
Columbia Cemetery is the burial ground of approximately 31 members of the U.S. Colored Infantry, making it one of the only locations of its kind in Missouri. Many of those interred in Columbia Cemetery were members of Missouri’s 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment who participated in the last major engagement of the Civil War at Palmetto Ranch, Texas in 1865.
A monument honoring the 42 members of the U.S. Colored troops whose names are engraved on a large speckled stone monument is found further in the cemetery. The monument was planned by late Betty Bakich, who led the Daughters of Union Veterans Missouri Department in 1999. The monument was placed by the Ann Hawkins Gentry Tent 21 of the Daughters of Union Veterans in May 2016. (A comprehensive list of the United States Colored Civil War veterans remembered in Columbia Cemetery is listed here.)
By the end of the Civil War, more than 186,000 black soldiers had volunteered to serve with the Union army. Those that survived the horrors of the war had much to dream about, but little ability and resources to make their dreams come true. Recognizing the power and value of education, the men of the 62nd and 65th Colored Infantry Regiment (comprising primarily of uneducated ex-slaves from Missouri) collected almost $6,000 to formally establish Lincoln Institute in January of 1866, whose name later changed to Lincoln University in 1921.
If you made it this far down the blog, pat yourself on the back and take a moment to pay homage to these 42 men who risked their lives to fight for our country. I hope you learned the significance of what remains in these 35 acres of Columbia Cemetery and of Columbia itself.
Photos by Joy Park