Politics

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 304

This is the grave of Winston Edmunds.

Sometimes, when you are wandering around a cemetery, you find a gravestone that speaks to you. This isn’t so common anymore, because in the mid-20th century, gravestones became as austere as modernist architecture and even the graves of very famous people from this era can be difficult to find since entire cemeteries consist of gravestones flat in the ground without any markings. This is beginning to change, as the New Gilded Age brings a return to ostentation that the middle class is copying, so many recent graves mention a person’s interests and the like. Anyway, looking for graves can take time, even after you get to the cemetery. A few times, such as when I found Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, I literally stumbled over famous people whose grave was listed as unknown on the internet. So that was cool. And occasionally, one finds an interesting grave marker of someone I would never hear of otherwise.

Such is the case of Winston Edmunds. I was searching for Arthur Ashe and ran across his grave. And I thought–what this guy must have seen. The butler at the governor’s mansion in Gilded Age Virginia, when Jim Crow was being created, legalized, and enforced. How much obsequiousness did he have to show? What horrible things he must have heard and probably experienced? How many despicable people did he serve? It’s almost unimaginable. Evidently he was very good at the job, as not only did he keep it forever, but the state paid for the tombstone. I can only imagine what they said about him–no doubt he was one of the “good ones” no matter what he had to swallow during his years in what was almost without question one of the very much jobs imaginable for a black man in that time and place.

I can’t really write much about his life and its specifics. For the vast majority of people, the information is not there, or at least not without real research. The only thing I found about him on the internet is that in 1893, he married one of the maids at the governor’s mansion and the governor, Philip McKinney, who had run on a platform of white supremacy and fearmongering about blacks in politics. A real piece of work. Anyway, in his white generosity, he allowed Edmunds and his new wife to take a honeymoon in Chicago. I wonder if they were tempted to stay. But even though there’s not much I can say too specific to Edmunds’ life, I was moved by this, thinking about what his life must have been like and I thought it was a worthy addition to this series.

Winston Edmunds is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

This grave visit was supported by LGM reader contributions and, as I have said in the past, I am incredibly grateful for them. If you would like this series to wander around other southern cemeteries to see what I see, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. You just never know what you will find. Previous posts in this series are archived here.


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