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Group working to preserve, bring new life to predominantly African American cemetery in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Many of us have heard of the famous abolitionist, orator and writer Frederick Douglass. But did you know his granddaughter Fredericka Douglass Perrry, who historians say helped to provide better health to African American children in Kansas City during the early 1900’s, is buried at Highland Cemetery?

Kansas City native Benjamin “Bennie” Moten, an American jazz pianist and band leader, and Nelson C. Crews, who bought one of the first and prominent African American newspapers in the Midwest in 1911, also both rest in the cemetery near 23rd Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard.

“Yes, it’s a lot of history. Cemeteries are our laboratories, and we want to preserve the laboratory not only for ourselves but for future generations,” genealogist Preston Washington said.

In addition to the many African Americans who helped shaped Kansas City, Washington said many African American veterans are also buried in Highland Cemetery.

Thursday marked the first day of Black History Month and Washington, members of the Highland Cemetery Preservation group, civic leaders and others spent the afternoon talking about their plan to breathe new life into Highland.

But it won’t be an easy task.

“We have many key questions," Washington said. "How are we gonna fund it? How are we gonna get the taxes paid? How are we gonna attract someone to take over the cemetery? We have a lot of work to do."

For the last eight years, the Jackson County Land Trust has owned the cemetery, which spans 29 acres, due to unpaid back taxes.

Members of the Highland Cemetery Preservation Group are now looking for someone to initially maintain the 109-year-old cemetery and then ultimately buy what the group calls “a community treasure” that should not be forgotten.

“Right now, we’ve got a lot of people that look like they have some interest in this, and we got a lot of energy and enthusiasm and that could take a project a long ways," said Pierre Heidrich with the Highland Cemetery Preservation Group. "It sure would be nice to get it done in five years, but we will know more in a year."

Find more information about the Highland Cemetery Preservation Project here. The group’s next meeting will be held at noon Feb. 16 at 31 W. 31st Street in Kansas City.