BROWNSVILLE, Fla. – It was a chance invitation, but Thamar Timothee feels it was divine intervention.
"I felt a spirit calling me," she said.
Timothee said a friend invited her to a church service last fall. She said that after visiting she could not ignore the cemetery across the street from the church.
"They're not resting in peace,” she said. “They're not resting."
Timothee said she walked into the cemetery and couldn’t believe what she saw: Parts of the place looked like a dumpsite. Too many of the vaults and gravesites were covered in weeds, some seemed to spill out into the neighborhood.
"When I looked and I saw this, I said, 'This can't be,'" she said.
Timothee said she first visited Lincoln Memorial Park, at the corner of Northwest 46th Street and 30th Avenue, more than 30 years ago. She said her niece was six months old when she died of leukemia. She was buried at Lincoln.
"She's not even marked,” Timothee said. “I didn’t even see her grave, but I felt as if my mission is not done because we're going to have to clean this up."
Timothee started doing a little research. She learned everyone buried at Lincoln Memorial Park is black, including lynching victims. Miami's first black millionaire, Dana Albert Dorsey, is also interred in one of the cemetery’s two mausoleums.
"We have so much history in here,” said Timothee. "I need the community to help. I need to talk to the mayor. I don't know who to call, so I called Layron."
Lincoln Memorial Park is a privately owned cemetery. Estimates put the number of people buried there at around 20,000. Ellen Johnson owned the cemetery for decades, until she died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. The illness not only took its toll on Johnson’s health, but the condition of the cemetery.
Johnson niece, Jessica Williams, now owns Lincoln.
"When I first got here, and my auntie had passed away, I was hurt. I was devastated," said Williams.
We spoke with her inside the cemetery, during our conversation, a visitor who came to pay her respects expressed her frustrations with the condition of the graveyard and confronted Williams.
“It shouldn't be like this, here," said Paulette Jackson, whose grandmother, aunt, and other relatives are buried at Lincoln.
"I think it's wrong, and it's sad that our ancestors are out here like this and nobody gives a damn about it!"
Williams was emotionally shaken by the exchange, but said she’s heard the comments before.
Williams said all she can do is listen. “I'm only one person. I'm only one human being," she said
But Williams said she has a vision.
"In an ideal world, it's going to be beautiful,” she said. “All the graves are going to be painted. I want to set up a museum inside to show the history of this place. Everything takes time, and this is definitely going to take time."
It will also take people willing to help. Moments after we spoke with Williams, so did Timothee. Minutes later, the two were exchanging contact information.
"There's too much history here," said Timothee. "My goal is to see a new Lincoln Memorial Park."