Sunday, January 14, 2007

West Blocton, Alabama Cemetery

Westblocton Dedicated propertyprof readers will recall that I sing the praises of my hometown newspaper, the Tuscaloosa News, every now and then.  We're often treated to terrific human interest stories on cemeteries.  (Like this one, by my friend Cathy Lee, last summer. [Free registration required]) 

So what to my wondering eyes did appear in this morning's Tuscaloosa News?  This awesome story by Ben Windham on the West Blocton Cemetery.  Here's a sample:

Hardly anyone was on Main Street in West Blocton, with its rows of empty storefronts, when I arrived there. Up the hill, doors on Rosa Parks Lane were shut tight against the chill. I was headed for the nearby Italian Catholic Cemetery, one of the state’s hidden treasures. It served Bibb County’s immigrant community in the days before its mines and coke ovens closed.

The Italian community was a world apart. Some of the laborers that mine bosses imported from Italy worked in an enclosure that locals called a “dog pen" until they paid off the cost of their passage.  The homes, stores and restaurants of their fellow countrymen were centered in a hilly area called “Little Italy" . . . .

So strong was the code of apartheid at the dawn of the 20th century that an Italian child was refused burial in the community’s traditional white cemetery, Mt. Carmel.  That led the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Alabama to consecrate the Italian Cemetery in 1901. . . .

But until recently, when an all-weather road was constructed, the Italian Catholic Cemetery remained difficult to access. Deep ruts and potholes made the road up the ridge treacherous.  Still, a visit there always rewarded the effort.

Most of the grave markers are written in Italian. Some retain the old-county custom of featuring a small oval portrait of the deceased. A few reflect the hardscrabble lives -- and deaths -- of the immigrants. “Victim of the mine," one stone reads. “Killed in Klondike Mine July 20, 1906," says another.

There's a lot more to the story.  I sure enjoy the Tuscaloosa News.

The image of West Blocton (one of the few I could find in the public domain) is from our friends at the Library of Congress.

Alfed L. Brophy

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