BRADENTON -- Members of Kirby Stewart American Legion Post 24 said they were appalled at the condition of Adams and Rogers Cemeteries when they went to place flags on a veteran's grave last Memorial Day.
In many cases, the neglect was so bad Legion members couldn't locate the graves.
Adams and Rogers Cemeteries began in Northwest Bradenton as the Fogartyville Colored Cemetery. Among those at rest there are many black veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
American Legion Riders and the honor guard have adopted the cemetery at 43rd Street Northwest and Third Avenue Northwest and will be there at 9 a.m. Saturday to tackle the huge job of cleaning it up.
It's the second time Legion members have been in the cemetery recently to clear out brush, trim trees and mow grass under the direction of Jim Brown, Legion Riders director.
"The American Legion Riders, Chapter 24 and the honor guard believe that nothing is too good for our veterans. Taking on this project is an ideal way of paying tribute to and thanking every veteran who is at rest in Adams and Rogers Cemeteries," said Legion member Drew Thomas.
William H. and Eliza Atzeroth Fogarty donated 4 acres to the community in 1896 to be used as a public cemetery, according to a historic marker designating the property as a Florida Heritage Site.
By 1922, the cemetery was full and trustees bought another 4 acres, which was set aside for those unable to buy a burial plot. It is referred to as Adams Cemetery. Rogers Cemetery adjoins Adams and was traditionally for African-American burials.
Rogers Cemetery is named for Garfield and Minnie L. Rogers, who were active in the Civil Rights movement.
Fogartyville Cemetery, which is just east of Adams and Rogers cemeteries, was traditionally for burial of white residents. Among those at Fogartyville is Kirby Stewart, a World War I U.S. Army hero and namesake of American Legion Post 24.
In addition to being overgrown, many markers are damaged or semi-buried.
Some inscriptions are touching. The marker for Beatrice Mitchell, who died in 1955, appears homemade with the inscription etched in cement: "We all love you. But God loves you best."
Neighbors said they welcome the cleanup.
"That's a good thing. There are some really old plots over there," said Jeff Martin.
Don Bailey, who lives just across the street from the cemetery, agreed.
"Any time we can keep a cemetery clean, it's a good idea," Bailey said.
Donald Campbell Jr. also welcomed the news.
He was visiting the grave of his father, Donald Campbell Sr., who was just 30 when he was shot to death in 2003, an innocent bystander at a local car wash. The slaying was in front of Donald Jr.'s little brother, who was 9 at the time.
The shooting remains unsolved.
"My father was a nice guy and he was working at Tropicana," Donald Campbell Jr. said. "I come here a lot by myself. I try to clear my head and I feel I can connect with him. It's a peaceful time."
The Legion invites anyone who wants to help with the cemetery cleanup to come to Adams and Rogers at 9 a.m. Saturday, said Legion Adjutant Warner Weil. "It's a big job. It's 25 acres," he said.
James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.