The Rescue Of Woodlawn Cemetery
“To the living we owe our respect but to the dead we own only the truth” Voltaire
Established in 1869 as Compton Rural Cemetery, Woodlawn Memorial Park is among the oldest cemeteries in Los Angeles County. Due to segregation and Jim Crow laws blacks were not allowed to be buried in the same cemetery as whites. Woodlawn was popular for laying to rest 18 civil war veterans, a couple of leaders in the black panther party, and one special black performer by the name of Freeman Davis AKA “Whistling SAM”. Woodlawn is also the resting place of Francis Everett Townsend. Townsend created the “Townsend Plan” which was a pension plan for senior citizens to receive two hundred dollars a month during the great depression. Woodlawn has suffered massive hardships of poor management, financially bankruptcy and a class action lawsuit for improper handling of the deceased.
As local neighbors complained to the City of Compton for lack of upkeep and hazardous materials being thrown over the gates, one woman stepped in to advocate for the restoration of Woodlawn as foreclosure approached. Celestina Bishop is the founder of the non-profit organization called One Section at A Time. Bishop and partner Michael Baker founded the non-profit organization to restore the cemetery back to its stature. Both Baker and Bishop have loved ones resting at Woodlawn but due to the class action lawsuit, and gross negligence, the cemetery has remained closed for over three years. Bishop’s outpour and dedication to the cemetery went viral streaming through the internet to news channels such as CBS, KCAL9 and various newspapers. Bishop whose mother and sister were bludgeoned to death are buried at Woodlawn. Celestina stated over the intercom at the beautification project back in June “My mother is buried over there if you see me talking, I am having a conversation with her”.
For the last two years Baker and Bishop have been hopping over the fence to visit their loved ones noticing how, the cemetery has been neglected and the maintenance has been poorly handled. After seeing this she started her non-profit One Section At A Time. In June the non-profit collaborated with NBC and Top Dog catering to provide supplies and raise awareness in the fight to restore and save Woodlawn. Celestina has been fundraising, reaching out to community and legislative leaders to purchase the cemetery and restore it back to its standing grace. This cemetery which holds a history of prominent people of color, black civil war veterans, black panther leaders and a famous black entertainer is a piece of monumental history that cannot be overlooked.
This cemetery is of great importance to me as well because my father Joe Louis Baylor along with two brothers one a military veteran, and my mother’s father Nathaniel Comick whom I wrote a migration piece on are buried at Woodlawn. One can only imagine the horror of knowing what it feels like to be unable to lay flowers on your loved one’s grave. I had the opportunity during the beautification project to meet Celestina and Mr. Baker as they assisted me in locating my loved one's graves.
The cemetery was covered with growing weeds and grass covering the graves, that it became impossible without looking at the cemetery plot book to locate my family. My sister was able to find our father Joe Baylor. Bishop also located the resting place of Freeman Davis “Whistling Sam” grave. In November Celestina Bishop was able to purchase the cemetery changing the name to “Woodlawn Celestial Memorial Park”. The cemetery gates will be open for families to pay homage to those buried at Woodlawn. For more information on One Section At A Time or to make a contribution visit https://onesectionatatime.org and for more historian information on performer Freeman Davis Aka “Brother Bones” aka “Whistling Sam” you can visit YouTube or click on this video link Brother Bones Minstrel Show Performance — YouTube. Remember those who have touched our lives leave a lasting impression, they live on inside each of us. It is our job to ensure that their memory is reflected in the actions of our good doings.