Exhibit: “Higher Ground: Honoring Washington Park Cemetery, Its People and Place”

  • Mar 3, – Aug 26, 2017
  • The Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard

This multimedia exhibition, conceived by photographer Jennifer Colten, includes 50 large-scale, color landscape photographs by Colten, as well as video and oral histories by Denise Ward-Brown, historical land documentation, historical narrative panels and an art installation by Dail Chambers, which together provide an overview of the history and issues surrounding this historically African-American cemetery. Washington Park Cemetery, located near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport was established in 1920 as a burial ground for African-Americans at a time when rigid segregation was common practice. For nearly 70 years, it was the largest black cemetery in the region, and the final resting place for many prominent African-Americans, including Oscar Minor Waring, the first African-American principal of Sumner High School and Dr. Miles Davis, Sr., father of the great trumpeter. In the 1950s, the cemetery was split and parts paved over by Interstate 70, and again in the 1970s and 1990s disruption and erasure occurred; bodies were disinterred and moved when parts of this land was appropriated by Lambert Airport and Metrolink. This exhibition tells the story of the cemetery’s long and tragic history and reveals the complicated tangle of social injustice, racial politics and neglect that it has suffered. A fully-illustrated exhibition catalogue and a dedicated resource webpage hosted by Washington University Libraries’ Special Collections accompanies the exhibition.

The exhibition is made possible by a Ferguson Academic Seed Fund Grant from Washington University in St. Louis, the Missouri Humanities Council with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Karen and Lawrence Kotner, Barbara and Arthur McDonnell, David Capes Photography LLC, Officer Funeral Home P.C. and James and Brenda Rivers. In-kind support is provided by Washington University Libraries, and the Missouri History Museum.