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Douglas Cemetery

Preserving History and Heritage: the Story of Douglass Memorial Cemetery and Fields Cook’s Enduring Legacy

Preserving Legacy Amidst Abandonment: The Tale of Douglass Memorial Cemetery

Established in 1895, Douglass Memorial Cemetery stands as a testament to the history and struggles of African Americans in the United States. Named in honor of the renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass, this cemetery holds stories that echo through time. However, the cemetery’s abandonment and its current maintenance by the City of Alexandria underscore the challenges faced in preserving this vital piece of history.

Preserving History: Signage at Douglass Cemetery, Part of the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, Alexandria, Virginia
Preserving History: Signage at Douglass Cemetery, Part of the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, Alexandria, Virginia

Chronicles of Resting Souls: Unraveling the Burial Patterns

A distinctive feature of Douglass Memorial Cemetery lies in the arrangement of its burial plots. The eastern half of the cemetery reveals a poignant pattern: a chronological sequence of burials based on the time of passing. This orderly arrangement reflects the passage of time and a chronicle of lives lived and stories untold.

Binding Ties Even in Eternity: Family Burial Traditions

A different practice becomes evident as one explores the other half of the cemetery. The resting places here suggest a tradition of families being interred together, a poignant testament to the strong bonds that persist beyond the veil of mortality. These family plots speak to the importance of kinship and unity, even in the face of adversity.

A Silent Testimony to Unmarked Lives: Markers Lost to Time

While records hint at the resting place of nearly 2000 individuals within the cemetery, the reality is starkly different. Fewer than 700 markers remain visible today, leaving many stories unmarked and lives uncelebrated. Over time, the erosion of these markers highlights the urgency of preserving these historic sites and the memories they encapsulate.

Unveiling Secrets Beneath: October 2019 Geophysical Survey

In October 2019, a team of researchers from Alexandria Archaeology embarked on a journey to uncover hidden truths without disturbing the sacred ground. The team sought to identify potential burial locations through non-invasive geophysical survey techniques such as ground-penetrating radar and electrical conductivity. These instruments, gently dragged or pushed along the earth, revealed clues hidden beneath the surface, offering a new dimension to the history of Douglass Memorial Cemetery.

Guardians of Heritage: The City’s Role in Preservation

Amidst the abandonment and the passage of time, the City of Alexandria has taken on the mantle of preserving the heritage within Douglass Memorial Cemetery. This custodial role is vital in ensuring that the stories of those who rest here continue to echo through generations to come.

A Tapestry of Leadership: Fields Cook’s Enduring Legacy in Douglass Memorial Cemetery

From Trustees to Tombstones: Fields Cook’s Integral Role

The history of Douglass Memorial Cemetery is woven with threads of dedication and leadership, and at its inception, one name stands out prominently: Fields Cook. Fields Cook was pivotal in shaping the cemetery’s destiny as an integral member of the original board of trustees. His vision for a place of rest and remembrance for African Americans is a testament to his commitment to the community’s well-being.

Fields Cook: A Life and Legacy

Fields Cook’s legacy extends far beyond his role as a trustee. Born into the complexities of 19th-century America, Cook was no stranger to adversity. He was an influential African American figure, an activist, and a leader in the struggle for civil rights and equality. His life was marked by tireless efforts to dismantle the barriers that confined African Americans to the margins of society. Cook’s unyielding commitment to justice and equality inspired his contemporaries and continues to inspire generations today.

Fields Cook: A Key Figure in Indicting Jefferson Davis

In this compelling photograph, Fields Cook stands at the center of a momentous event during his time as a member of the Grand Jury responsible for indicting former Confederate President Jefferson Davis. This snapshot captures a pivotal juncture in American history, a testament to Cook’s influence and commitment to justice. The photograph is now on display at the Lyceum in Alexandria, offering a unique glimpse into the past and the individuals who played significant roles in shaping it.

Resting Amidst His Brethren: Fields Cook’s Final Resting Place

Fields Cook found his final resting place in Bethel Cemetery within the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, where Douglass Memorial Cemetery resides, as a fitting tribute to his dedication. Nestled amongst these historic grounds, Bethel Cemetery holds its tales of history and heritage. This proximity highlights the interconnectedness of these sacred grounds and the shared aspirations that bind them together. Fields Cook’s presence in Bethel Cemetery intertwines his legacy with the stories of countless others, a reminder that even in death, he stands united with his brethren in their pursuit of equality and justice.

In memory of
Rev. FIELDS COOK
born 1820
died Jan 20, 1897
Because I live, ye shall live also.
L16, Bethel Cemetery

Fields Cook’s Spiritual Legacy: A Beacon of Resilience

Cook’s influence in Alexandria extended beyond his role as a trustee of Douglass Memorial Cemetery. He was an advocate for civil rights and deeply connected to the spiritual fabric of the city. Cook served as a pastor at the Third Baptist Church until early 1883. However, disagreements within the congregation led him to depart. Undeterred by challenges, he took on a new role as the pastor of the city’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served until his death. As a spiritual leader, Cook’s dedication and perseverance continued to shape the community, fostering unity and resilience among the people he shepherded.

An Unbroken Chain of Leadership and Heritage

Fields Cook’s role in the original board of trustees of Douglass Memorial Cemetery symbolizes the torchbearers of heritage and preservation. His efforts in establishing a space for remembrance and reflection have transcended time, leaving a lasting impact on the African American community and beyond. The presence of his legacy in both Bethel Cemetery and the annals of Douglass Memorial Cemetery speaks to the unbroken chain of leadership and stewardship that continues to shape these sacred spaces.

Honoring Fields Cook’s Vision: A Call to Preserve

Fields Cook’s journey from board trustee to his final resting place echoes the aspirations of countless individuals whose lives were intertwined with Douglass Memorial Cemetery. As we traverse these historic sites and unravel their stories, we are reminded of our responsibility to honor the legacy of individuals like Fields Cook. Their vision, dedication, and sacrifice lay the foundation for preserving history and celebrating life, even in the face of the passage of time.

As we reflect on the rich tapestry of history woven within Douglass Memorial Cemetery and Bethel Cemetery, nestled within the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, we recognize the urgency of preserving these stories for future generations. The echoes of the past continue to resonate in the present, reminding us of the challenges faced, the victories won, and the enduring spirit of those who have come before us. In preserving this sacred ground, we honor the lives laid to rest and empower the living to remember, learn, and shape a more inclusive future.

Sources of Information

Pippenger, W. E. (1992). Tombstone Inscriptions of Alexandria, Virginia (Volume 3). Family Line Publications. Westminister, MD 21157.

Pippenger, W. E. (1993). Tombstone Inscriptions of Alexandria, Virginia (Volume 4). Family Line Publications. Westminister, MD 21157.

Find A Grave. (n.d.). Douglass Cemetery. Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2151092/douglass-cemetery

Heiby, D. (2023, August 10). I want to thank Mr. Jim Holloway, Interpretive Program Coordinator, City of Alexandria, VA, at The Lyceum – Alexandria’s History Museum, for providing most of the source of information used to write the biography on the Reverend Fields Cook.

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By David

Hello. With a passion for bringing history to life, I serve my community as a public historian and cemetery superintendent. My journey has led me to own businesses, conduct Civil War battlefield tours and research Alexandria’s cemeteries.

Since 2015, I have had the privilege of serving as Superintendent of the historic Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium, located within Alexandria's Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex. The Presbyterian Cemetery has close ties to the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, situated one mile east, where my family has worshipped for two generations. My parents are laid to rest in this cemetery, which holds a special place in my heart.

Most weekends, you can find me leading tours of the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, where thirteen cemeteries are located, with over 35,000 buried. Considered one of the most historic cluster of cemeteries in the United States, I weave my enthusiasm for teaching with the stories of those interred there. I also manage a blog focused on all the cemeteries in Alexandria where the many souls buried across the city are memorialized.

In addition, I'm an active Board Member of both the Alexandria Historical Society and Lee-Fendall House Museum. As part of the Northern Virginia Cemetery Consortium, I diligently preserve endangered burial sites throughout the region.

If Alexandria’s history captivates you, I invite you to join one of my cemetery tours, read my blog on memorializing souls buried across the city’s cemeteries, or connect with me on social media. I find joy and purpose in bringing Alexandria’s rich past to life and serving my community.

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