I visited the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex yesterday, and came across this broken stone. Although I could make out the dates of birth and death, the name was missing. After a bit of research, I discovered the fragmented gravestone was placed in honor of Edwin Mingo, who passed away at Central State Hospital, in Petersburg, Virginia.
Central State Hospital was established on March 17, 1885, as a segregated mental health facility for African Americans. Some of its first patients were initially provided care at Howard’s Grove General Hospital, a former Confederate hospital that had been converted into an “asylum for the colored insane” on December 17, 1869, according to an 1897 article in the Richmond Dispatch.
In 1885, the Richmond Dispatch reported that the patients had been transported in covered wagons from Howard’s Grove to the railroad station, and there borne by “special train” to the new hospital. A historical marker, located on Boydton Plank Road in Petersburg, reads “Established in 1869 in temporary quarters at Howard’s Grove near Richmond. In 1870 it came under control of the state. In 1885 it was moved to the present location, the site of ‘Mayfield Plantation’, which was purchased and donated to the state by the City of Petersburg. The first hospital in America exclusively for the treatment of mental disease in the Negro.” There’s currently an ongoing project to both digitize its archives and make them accessible to the public. The patients may have been at Central State Hospital for a variety of reasons, including “for not stepping off a sidewalk to let a white man pass by, or for getting into an argument with their boss,” notes project director Professor King Davis of the University of Texas at Austin. The records will be invaluable to relatives and descendants of the former patients, doctors, and nurses of the hospital, as well as help to broaden the study of African American post-Civil War life and mental health care in Virginia.
Mr. Mingo was the son of Edwin (Edward) and Mariah Mingo. Edwin Mingo, Sr. (ca. 1829-1882), was a Civil War veteran, who enlisted with the 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry, on October 29, 1863, at Norfolk, Va. He is also interred in Mt. Olive Cemetery.
I found Edwin Mingo, Jr.’s obituary in the New Journal and Guide. It reads, in part: “Funeral services for Edwin Mingo, well-known contractor and bondsman, who died April 24 in a Petersburg hospital, were held Friday afternoon, April 28, at the Wheeler Funeral Home, with the Rev. U. G. Wilson officiating. Mrs. Alma Cannon was at the piano. Mrs. Violet Rock announced the messages of sympathy and read the family paper. Solos were by Mrs. Lella Williams and Mrs. Martha Smith. Interment was in the family plot in Mt. Olive cemetery.”
Edwin Jr. left many relatives and friends to cherish his memory. We’re privileged to know some of them, who have long advocated for the preservation of the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Unfortunately, there are many gravestones in the cemetery complex that are in the same condition as Edwin’s. They’ve been vandalized and/or broken over the years, and some are nearly too faded to read. It’s discouraging to study a worn inscription on a gravestone, and being unable to discern the name, wonder if that person’s story has been lost to time. I suppose that’s why we feel excited when identifications are made, to help reconstruct a more complete history of the cemetery complex, a critical component of the preservation process. The work continues…