African American Fellowship Final Presentation: Michael Johnson

Sep 8, 2024

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Michael Johnson is a fifth-generation Alexandrian. His family dates back to 1790 in Virginia, and he has seven family members buried at Douglass Cemetery. Seven years ago, he started this journey at Fredrick Douglass Cemetery; his late Dear Mother Bernice Johnson told me that family members were buried at Douglass. “When she told me this, I said, ” Mom, you’re crazy. That place is covered with overgrown grass and vegetation.” His older brother would take him through Douglass when he was a small kid, and you could barely see any headstones or signs that this was the final resting place for my family members or anyone else. In 2018, 6 months after his mother’s passing, he went out to Douglass and started looking around. Douglass Cemetery was filled with water after a heavy rainstorm; He found this true after each rainstorm. According to records, this cemetery was named after the great Abolitionist Fredrick Douglass, who spoke in Alexandria in 1894 and passed shortly after that in 1895, making what some say could’ve been his last speech. On record, there are 2000 buried here at Douglass, yet only 650 headstones are visible today. The question that went through his head was, “Where are the other 1,350 burials located?” This is one of the main questions that has inspired Michael to work on this project for the past six years.

Along with the flooding, he saw other issues, such as missing headstones. Some had sunken into the ground. With the help of a few close family members and friends, Michael co-founded the Social Responsibility Group(SRG). Most had never even heard of Douglass Cemetery. Many of those buried at Douglass had been born into slavery and saw a form of freedom in their later life. His research found over 125 descendants of those buried at Douglass nationwide. It is a must to record as much of their family oral history as possible but also restore Douglass to a place where walking tours can take place and the history of those buried there can be shared with younger generations. He is working with others to correct the flooding issues, and since there is an apartment building built right on top of the cemetery, we would like to find out what happened to the other 1,350 persons missing. 

Michael Johnson is a history major at Coppin State University. His work at Douglass Cemetery inspired him to return and obtain his Public History degree. He is also the winner of the 2022 Fannie J Coppin Award given to the top history student at CSU.

Final presentation will be in person and virtual, we hope you can attend! Link to attend virtually, location and time coming soon.