Greenwood Cemetery was organized in 1874 to serve the needs of the growing black population of post-
civil war St. Louis and St. Louis County. It was the first commercial non-sectarian cemetery for African
Americans in the St Louis metropolitan area. More than 50,000 Africans Americans are buried within
Greenwood’s 31.85 acres. Unfortunately in the 1980’s the ownership of the cemetery dissolved and the
grounds sat unmanaged for several decades. The result was an impenetrable mat of invasive species,
honeysuckle, winter creeper, and others that were effectively robbing the black community of access to
this heritage. It was a tragic development.

Enter Raphael and Shelly Morris. Longtime residents of the area, they both had relatives interned
somewhere in the cemetery. The problem was finding them in the thick overgrowth of invasives. The
couple along with many other interested parties formed the Greenwood Cemetery Preservation
Association in 2016, and began the arduous process of clearing the site and returning the cemetery to its
former state. It was not an easy task.

Raphael Morris reveals the grave of his great grandmother.

In 2020, staff and volunteers with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment began helping with this
effort. With years of joint labor hacking honeysuckle, the staff at MCE and the Greenwood Cemetery
Preservation Association have developed an enduring partnership and conversations began about taking that
partnership to a new level.

MCE Community Outreach Specialist Jim Karpowicz has a long history in documentary filmmaking, and
had filmed the efforts at Greenwood on several occasions. The time seemed right for a more in depth
exploration of the Greenwood story, dealing not only with the restoration of the grounds, but of the
deeper effect of restoring access to this history. In partnership with the Greenwood Cemetery
Preservation Association, MCE applied for a grant from the Missouri Humanities Council to tell that
expanded story and to distribute it to a wider audience.

Shelly Morris discussing her genealogical research with Director of Photography, Tom Newcomb.

On March 19th of this year that grant was approved and work began on MCE’s Greenwood Cemetery
documentary. It’s a incredible journey, moving interviews, historical research, touching tales of relatives
discovering history that had been locked away for decades. Musicians, baseball stars, civil rights
activists, their stories are all being unfurled and celebrated. It’s been a very moving process for the
participants, as well as for the filmmakers and crew. Work on the film is proceeding through the
summer, with the final premier scheduled for this September.

We are eagerly looking forward to sharing this film!

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