Maintaining History in the Garden of Eden

I got a chance to meet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, one of my historical role models, over the weekend.  Harper -- poet, writer, lecturer, abolitionist, women's rights activist -- fearlessly tested segregation in 19th century Philadelphia by refusing to give up her seat on a horse-drawn trolley 100 years before Rosa Parks did the same on a Montgomery, Ala. bus.

Harper passed away in 1911, at the ripe old age of 86. Her  remains, as well as those of her daughter, Mary, are interred at historic Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, the first African America-owned cemetery in the country and the final resting place for thousands of notable black Philadelphians, including freedom fighter Octavius Catto and renown opera star Marian Anderson.

During Saturday's volunteer cleanup, which I wrote about in today's column, Eden general manager Mina Cockroft asked me if I would be willing to help maintain Harper's gravesite as part of the cemetery's adopt-a-gravesite program. To me, it was a no-brainer. I can think of no better way to keep history alive.

By the way, that's me, next to Mrs. Harper's headstone.

The next cleanup at Eden is scheduled for June 11.

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