Flagpole to be dedicated at historic cemetery

The new flagpole at Father Dickson Cemetery

The new flagpole at Father Dickson Cemetery

A dedication ceremony for the first-ever flagpole at the historic Father Dickson Cemetery in Crestwood will take place on Flag Day — Saturday, June 14.

The ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. at the cemetery, 945 Sappington Road, according to Tom Ford, who helped lead the effort to raise the money for the flagpole, and Ernest Jordan, president of the Friends of Father Dickson Cemetery. Both Ford and Jordan are Vietnam veterans.

Ford told the Call that he recently learned that the cemetery, one of the first public cemeteries available to blacks in the area, did not have a permanent flagpole on which to fly the American flag. The cemetery is the final resting place of historical figures and veterans of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

Ford, other members of Chapter 1028 of the Vietnam Veterans of America and some Crestwood residents raised the funds to purchase the flagpole from Plasti-Lite Signs, which donated an American flag.

Jordan said he was approached by the residents and Vietnam veterans who “wondered if I’d be interested in having a flagpole put up. And, of course, I said, ‘Yes.'”

The cemetery is named in honor of the Rev. Moses Dickson, a black abolitionist, soldier and minister. Other prominent figures interred there include attorney, liturgist and teacher John Vashon, for whom Vashon High School is named; Madam C.J. Walker, thought to be the first black woman millionaire; John Briggs Sr., whose son, John Briggs Jr., was a Tuskegee airman; and James Milton Turner, who was appointed ambassador to Liberia by Ulysses S. Grant in 1871.

Besides Father Dickson Cemetery, this area had about nine other black cemeteries, Jordan said. But Father Dickson Cemetery was the premier cemetery, primarily because of its historical significance, he said.

Ford discussed the historical significance of the cemetery, saying, “If you think about it, for me to get in the Navy in 1960 was a piece of cake. For him (Jordan) to get in the Navy when he got in, in 1960 was a piece of cake. On the other hand, if you belonged to the 3rd Colored Heavy Artillery in the Civil War, how tough was that? …

“How difficult was it to get into a group like that? And yet, there’s at least one (veteran) that was in the artillery buried there and a couple from the infantry from the Civil War.”

Jordan said, “There’s Jasper Pettit, who was with the 3rd Colored Heavy Artillery that’s buried there … After the war, a lot of the Union officers who commanded the black troops kind of didn’t want to be associated with them because of the stigma, but there were two German officers that took pride (in their service).”

One of those two officers, Col. Ignatz Kappner of the 3rd U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, settled here, and became the partner of Joseph Pulitzer and co-editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Friends of Father Dickson Cemetery, a 501(c)13 nonprofit organization, was established in 1988 to maintain the cemetery.

“… At that time there was a developer in the area that wanted to take the cemetery over and do either commercial or residential (development) …,” Jordan recalled.

“… There’s so much history there …,” he added. My main goal (is) to keep the cemetery going, get the information out, keep it clean and make it a collective base for everybody because there’s over 12,000 people that are interred there …”

The Friends of Father Dickson Cemetery meet from 10 a.m. to noon the third Saturday of each month at the cemetery for a community-service day.