Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, September 19, 2004, pg. 13
Coming up on Sunday, October 3 at 1:30 pm. is my annual guided tour of Riverside Cemetery, sponsored by the Community Enrichment Program of the Albion Public Schools. This year’s tour will be held in the very back southeast corner of the cemetery known as “Section 129.” The tour is entitled “An Ethnic Tour of Riverside Cemetery, Part 3,” which continues the theme we had in the 1996 and 1997 tours. The new Hometown TV is looking for a sponsor(s) so that they can tape and air this tour on cable channel 17. Call Jeff Matthew at (517) 629-2478 if you’d like to help in this way.
Section 129 is a special area of the cemetery, because burials here were purposely segregated by race, religion, and age. There are several rows containing the graves (mostly unmarked) of African-Americans who came to Albion from the South to work at the Albion Malleable Iron Company beginning in 1916 and 1917, and of their families which followed. Written down as the “Colored Section” in the cemetery records, the burials here are a “who’s who” of the early 20th century black community. There is also one row made up almost exclusively of minority infants in this section.
One major cause of death for those interred in this section was the dreaded Spanish influenza, which took the lives of many in the 1918 to 1920 period here in Albion, no matter what race, religion or lot in life they were from. One family that was hit particularly hard was the Leggett family, who were prominent early leaders within the local black population that had come up from the South. Rev. Andrew J. Leggett (1869-1919) was a native of Peach Tree, Alabama. He was one of four original ministers at the black Community Church on Cass St. in 1917. All four Reverends had wanted to become the head minister, and after denominational and scheduling differences, the groups split apart and eventually four separate black churches emerged. Rev. Leggett formed the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at 806 N. Albion St., which later became known as Leggett Chapel in his memory.
His brother, Aurelius Baron Leggett (not interred here) was the secretary of the local committee which organized the very first Emancipation Day celebration in Albion, held on January 1, 1918. Aurelius was educated three years at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He stated at the time: “The committee wishes it emphasized that the program is for both white and colored people and the color line will not be drawn.” The committee had made plans for 800 persons to participate in that first-time event in Albion.
James E. Leggett (1898-1920), son of Rev. Andrew Leggett, gave the welcoming address at that first Emancipation Day celebration here. Within just a couple of years, Rev. Leggett, his son James, and another son Willie Oscar Leggett (1903-1919) were dead--victims of the Spanish influenza. Thus Albion had lost one of its early African-American ministers and leaders.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present for the first time a photograph of the Rev. Andrew J. Leggett, namesake of Leggett Chapel AME Zion Church. Special thanks to Rev. Ernest Harris of the church for contacting Leggett relatives in Pennsylvania and obtaining this precious photograph to share with our readers this week.
Make plans to attend my tour on October 3, as we honor the memories of those buried in Section 129.
Rev. Andrew J. Leggett
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic