Category Archives: Vernacular Headstones

Taw Caw Missionary Baptist Church-Summerton, South Carolina

The historic Black congregation was founded after the Civil War when newly freedmen and women wanted to worship separately from the white church that they were forced to attend with their enslavers. Many members of the congregation came from the local Taw Caw Plantation, so named because the Taw Car River runs near the property.

The original part of the church building was constructed in 1859 when it served as the church building for the white Baptists of Summerton, SC. In 1885, the church was purchased from the white Baptist congregation for $400. This original building still contained the original slave galleries built on the second floor.

More history of the church can be read on their website.

Moses Williams (1867-1915)
Lucreather Washington, (1887-1931)
A vernacular headstone where the letters have faded.

Eldren Bailey, Georgia

Eldren Bailey is seated in front of the sculptures in his front yard.

Eldren Bailey (1903-1987) was a sculptor known for large concrete sculptures. Born in Flovilla, Georgia, he moved to Atlanta at an early age. He first worked with the railroads, but he later became a mason. Many of his sculptures were brightly colored and adorned his front yard. Where he was most prolific though was helping many Black-owned funeral homes with the creation of grave markers.

Admittedly, I had always interpreted these as temporary markers, and for some families, they might have been true. For many, these markers are now permanent. Bailey’s markers differ from many of the other concrete markers seen in Black cemeteries.

Some of his larger pieces did end up in museums, but many of the sculptures seen in his front yard have disappeared.

Bailey’s marker in Southview Cemetery. You can see a similar sculpture behind Bailey in the photo at the top.
This is likely a Bailey marker. It is in Morgan County. Haugabrooks was a Black owned funeral home.
Clayton County, Georgia
Fulton County
Fulton County
A marker that was later incorporated as part of a crypt design
Based on the handwriting and the floral pattern, I suspect this was done by Bailey, too.
$10 receipt for marker that my friend Liz Clappin found

For more reading, I suggest the following:

Black Art Story

Oakland Cemetery Blog Post

Books recommendations

Souls Grown Deep

South-View: An African American City of the Dead

Behavior Cemetery-Sapelo Island, Georgia

McIntosh County

Behavior Cemetery is an active cemetery believed to have been in existence prior to the Civil War. It now serves as a burial ground for the descendants of the earliest Black families who have called Sapelo Island home.

Boston Gardner’s grave features a clock. The clock likely represents the passing of time.

The cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. The cemetery features many handmade markers that span several decades and more recent granite markers. Burial patterns are not in rows, and the older burials towards the middle and back of the cemetery.

Vases can be seen in many cemeteries, especially coastal ones.
Liberty Bell, 1900-1912
A fleur de lis next to the grave of Isabella Robinson, 1858-1889. In religion, it can represent the Holy Trinity. Additionally, some enslaved men and women were branded with a fleur de lis as punishment for trying to escape bondage.
Glasco Grovner, 1856-1928
Mary Lemon, 1906-1919. The star motif can be seen in many coastal cemeteries.
Deacon Grant Johnson, 1892-1956. The letter stamping is common method to mark headstones.
A modern memento
I believe these are giant checkers.
If you look closely, you can see the rebar and the mesh. It gives an idea of how some of these markers were made.