The Old City Cemetery Committee, in conjunction with the Sojourner Truth Multicultural Arts Museum in Sacramento, will offer a free tour of the Historic City Cemetery at 10 a.m. on Feb. 18 to honor Sacramento’s black pioneers.
“We’ll be featuring a dozen or so fascinating people from Sacramento’s history who were African-American or who affected their experience,” said Dr. Bob LaPerriere, founding member of the Old City Cemetery Committee.
Several guest docents from the Sojourner Truth Museum will be positioned along the tour to speak about Sacramento’s black pioneers. Eric Bradner, volunteer docent with the Old City Cemetery Committee, will lead the tour. Among the stories he will feature are those of five people Bradner said he discovered this year as a result of his research.
All five were members of the Colored Convention, an anti-slavery organization that sought to give black people the right to testify in a court of law.
Each docent will present information and history about "Negro trail blazers" who now rest at the cemetery, Bradner said.
Black barbers played a key role in the abolition movement, he said, and their graves are part of this tour. It was one occupation black men were allowed to do at the time, and one that was often performed by East Coast-educated doctors and lawyers who were unable to find work in their chosen professions.
“Barbers had a secret code, akin to the Underground Railroad,” Bradner said. He said people would pass along information through barbers about people who tried to settle in the area with slaves, and it would eventually get to abolitionists in Sacramento or San Francisco.
Also featured will be a “buffalo soldier” – a black soldier who fought in the Civil War and an opera singer named Anna Madah (Hyers) Fletcher.
Nelson Ray, along with his wife and son, is buried at the cemetery and their story will be presented by William “Malik” McDaniels, guest docent from the Sojourner Truth museum. The members of the Ray family were enslaved in Missouri in the early 19th century, but became separated following the death of the plantation owner.
Although Ray’s son was believed to be between 5 and 10 years old when he was sold to another slaveholder in Texas, the family was reunited decades later in Placerville, where they mined for gold, McDaniels said.
Tour attendees can expect to learn about a man who was among those who sat on the first all-black jury in Sacramento. Also buried at the cemetery is a man who ran an all-black boarding house and a restaurateur, Bradner said.
“We tell stories about people,” Bradner said, adding that it won’t be a boring history lesson. “There are so many great stories in that cemetery.”
The tour should last about one hour and is free, but donations are welcome and will go to repair broken tombstones, LaPerriere said.
The Old City Cemetery Committee conducts free monthly tours of the cemetery on many subjects. The history of labor in Sacramento will be highlighted later this year, Bradner said. Lantern-light tours are conducted three times each year, and private tours can be arranged for various prices.
The Historic City Cemetery is located at 1000 Broadway. Parking is available across from the cemetery on 10th Street.
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