WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions

Higher Ground: Honoring Washington Park Cemetery, Its People and Place

The history of Washington Park Cemetery reveals within its microcosm of events, a complicated tangle of social injustice, racial politics, and imbalance of power.  

Washington Park Cemetery, located near Lambert St Louis Airport in the city of Berkley, MO was established in 1920 as a burial ground for African Americans at a time when rigid segregation was common practice. For nearly 70 years, it was the largest black cemetery in the region, the final resting place for many prominent African Americans as well as lesser well-known citizens. The cemetery’s long and tragic history reveals a complicated tangle of social injustice, racial politics, imbalance of power, and dismal neglect. 

On three notable occasions, the peace of the grounds was disturbed: first in the late 1950’s with the construction of Interstate 70, in 1972 when Lambert Airport acquired nine acres for its use, and again in 1992 when bodies were disinterred to make way for the Airport runway expansion and MetroLink’s extension to the airport. 

This exhibition is in part protest, in part tribute, and in part, historical documentationThe work offers an effort and a promise toward acknowledging the cultural and historical significance of Washington Park Cemetery, and toward honoring the people touched by decades of oversight, neglect, and disruption.