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NPR’s Next Gen Radio is a five-day workshop for new journalists. These stories were produced in partnership with NPR, 90.7 WMFE News and WUSF Public Media. The reporters are students and recent graduates in Florida.

To Frank Wooden, Lincoln Memorial Park is more than just a burial ground


What is the meaning of HOME?

In this project through Next Gen Radio -- a collaboration between NPR and member stations -- we highlight the experiences of people in the state of Florida.

Victoria Fonseca speaks with Miami native Frank Wooden, who has dedicated his time to preserving the historic Black cemetery, Lincoln Memorial Park, in Brownsville after his brother bought the land where their parents are buried.

Frank Wooden is a groundskeeper and brother of the owner of Lincoln Memorial Park in Miami, where their parents are both buried. Wooden feels it’s vital to preserve this historic Black cemetery he devotes himself to, the place where he feels at home.

Frank Wooden feels at home in an unconventional place — a cemetery. Not just any cemetery, but Lincoln Memorial Park, a historic Black burial ground in the city of Miami.

Wooden, 68, is a former food truck cook who grew up in neighborhoods near the cemetery. Throughout his life, he has seen the city evolve. He doesn’t want anything to change about this plot of land, where he works as one of its caretakers.

A man in a tee shirt, jeans and sneakers stands at the gates of Lincoln Memorial Park cemetery.
Frank Wooden, 68, works every day at Lincoln Memorial Park cemetery in Miami, restoring this historic Black burial ground dating from the early 1900s.

“When I’m coming here, I’m coming home again,” said Wooden. “I love working out here. That’s me. That’s what I do.” This feeling of belonging has to do with people who are dear to him; his parents, two siblings and an aunt are buried in Lincoln Memorial Park.

The tomb of Gwendolyn Cherry with her date of birth and death.
Florida's first Black woman elected to the state legislature in 1970, Gwendolyn Cherry, is buried at Lincoln Memorial Park.

“I don’t see them in the physical, but I can feel their spirit, and that makes me happy to come to work every day,” Wooden said. “Sometimes I come seven days a week.”

Located in the historically Black neighborhood of Brownsville, the memorial park was first used as a graveyard in 1924. It has hundreds of tombs and gravesites, including Bahamians who were interred above ground, and many soldiers who, because of segregation, could not be laid to rest with their counterparts at Arlington National Cemetery.

Police officers were buried here, as was Dana Dorsey, Miami’s first Black millionaire, and Gwendolyn Cherry, the first Black woman elected to the Florida Legislature in 1970.

After Jessie Wooden, Frank Wooden’s younger brother, found out their mother was buried here, he decided to purchase the property in 2020 to save it from further neglect and from potential development, since it was privately owned. He convinced Wooden to come work with him.

“I love my brother Jessie Wooden,” Wooden said. “He took his hard-earned money and he purchased it. That’s why I’m here with him. We got a couple of our nephews and cousins that work with us out here. There’s about five of us total working at the Lincoln Memorial cemetery. We do the work of a hundred.”

When they got started about four years ago, many of the gravesites had been uncared for for decades. The Wooden brothers knew there was plenty of work to be done.

“We’re gonna put a fence up, an eight-foot fence, some lighting, we’re gonna pave the driveway, paint all the tombstones, and it’s gonna be beautified,” Frank Wooden said.

Wooden quit his cooking job to dedicate his days to not just preserving the cemetery, but also to restoring it. Previously, thanks to his mother, Wooden developed a love of cooking and began working on a local food truck specializing in soul food.

I don’t see them in the physical, but I can feel their spirit, and that makes me happy to come to work every day. Sometimes I come seven days a week.
Frank Wooden Groundskeeper, Lincoln Memorial Park

“My parents were loveable, kind, and peaceful. My mama had me in the kitchen at 8, 9 years old, washing dishes, learning how to cook,” he said.

Most caretakers within their five-person team show up at 10 a.m. to whack weeds, shovel out the dirt, mow the lawn and blow the leaves. They pressure clean and paint the tombs. However, Wooden likes to get there as early as 8 a.m. to get a head start on his daily tasks. He stays as long as he needs to, even if it’s dark out.

“We’re trying to bring the history back to the neighborhood and to the public,” Wooden said. “Kids can come and visit, students can come and visit from different colleges and just lift the neighborhood up.”

Wooden is also a father of 15. Many of his children have left the state, but two of them have remained in Florida along with children of their own. He often brings his great-grandchildren in Miami around the cemetery on weekends to show them where their family members are buried.

“So what I do is I take them to my mother’s grave, my father’s grave, my sister, my brother, and my aunt,” Wooden said. “I tell them, ‘This is your grandma, this is your aunt.’After that, I let them ask me questions. See, that’s how they learn.”

Theodore Cochran using a trimmer to clean up the weeds between the tombs.
Theodore Cochran is one of the family members helping Frank Wooden and his brother Jessie Wooden restore Lincoln Memorial Park.

For Wooden, the restoration of the cemetery is not just for the families of loved ones buried here, but also an opportunity to teach local Black history to younger generations, and for people like his grandchildren to understand why people were buried here and who they were. His dedication to his home and his parents’ resting place never wavers.

“This ain’t going nowhere,” he said. “We’re going to take care of this and keep it clean, keep it right like it’s supposed to be. Whatever we got to do, we’re going to break our backs to get it right.”

A graveyard with tombs and sun shining in the background.
As the sun sets, the graveyard shines with some tombs featuring flowers on top of them, provided by the families of the deceased.

Victoria Fonseca is a bilingual multimedia journalist based in Miami who hopes to pursue travel journalism with a focus on international news. She is currently a senior at Florida International University and an undergraduate research fellow for the Podcast Team Department at the Extreme Events Research Center at FIU.

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