Updated 02/20/2012 04:09 PM
Black History Month 2012: Historical Figures Live On At Bronx Cemetery
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Historic Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is celebrating Black History Month.
The 400-acre cemetery contains memorials to many prominent African Americans, including Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, and the first black mystery and detective novelist, Rudolph Fisher.
Historians say around the end of the 19th century the cemetery gained popularity because of its convenient location, and came to be seen as prestigious because of the famous figures who were buried there.
"In 1916 the subway connected us with Harlem so Woodlawn really became the cemetery for the Harlem renaissance. And then from that time period when so many cultural icons and important political figures came here people want to be buried with their own, they want to be buried with their heroes," said Woodlawn Cemetery Historian Susan Olsen.
Olsen adds about one third of the more than 300,000 people buried on the grounds are African Americans.
"From day one we've been a non sectarian cemetery. All walks of life are represented and welcomed here and what's surprising is they are not segregated at all either by religion by race or by ethnic group," said Olsen.
In addition to famous names like jazz great Lionel Hampton and poet Countee Cullen, there are others like Dr. David McDonough - a trailblazer in his own right.
"He was born into slavery. His master sent him to school, he was the first African American graduate of Lafayette College, went on to become a doctor and as it says on the memorial: He was a leader by example in the elevation of his race. A hospital in Harlem was named after him. A very prominent but unfortunately forgotten figure," said Olsen.
Woodlawn Cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark last year.
For information on upcoming cultural programs including this Sunday's talk by the great, great granddaughter of Madame C.J. Walker, the beauty products developer who became America's first female self-made millionaire, visit thewoodlawncemetery.org.