An Overlooked Artifact: Moses, Allen Chapel, Calvary Cemeteries

gabrielle chaissson staff

Hidden among Thibodaux, Louisiana’s side streets lies a cemetery with a deep connection to the Chitlin’ Circuit. 

Hosea Hill and Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones, two significant circuit figures, are buried in Moses, Allen Chapel, Calvary Cemeteries.

Hill owned the Sugar Bowl—a venue that brought the circuit down to Thibodaux—and he managed “Guitar Slim,” a popular circuit performer known for his unique performance style and outlandish entertainment tactics.

Hill’s grave sits next to Guitar Slim’s and faces the site of the Sugar Bowl, which was intentional, according to his niece Angela Watkins.

“Burying him closest to what he became. What he was known for…That’s a nice ending."

Since its establishment in 1880, Moses, Allen Chapel, Calvary Cemeteries has served as an exclusively African American cemetery for three of Thibodaux’s churches — Moses Baptist Church, Allen Chapel AME Church and Calvary United Methodist Church. It is considered one of the earliest local burial grounds for African Americans, according to its historical marker.

“African Americans needed a place to bury their loved ones when they passed on, so the churches got together and purchased property to do that,” says Patrick Bell, the pastor of Allen Chapel AME Church. “It was a way for families to say goodbye to their loved ones.”

Bell says all three churches share the land and each is responsible for its section of the cemetery.

The Louisiana Cemetery Board divides the site into Moses Baptist Church Cemetery, Allen Chapel AME Cemetery and the Calvary United Methodist Church Cemetery.

Divided along the three streets that surround the cemetery, the Moses Cemetery is listed on McCulla Street, Allen Chapel Cemetery is on 12th Street and Calvary Cemetery is on Goode Street, according to the board’s database.

The cemetery was unnamed until 1999 when the Lafourche Heritage Society’s board members commissioned a historical marker and combined the names of all three churches, according to the Lafourche Heritage Society Historian and Nicholls State University Archivist Clifton Theriot. 

Although the cemetery is shared between the three churches, most of the people buried there were not affiliated with one specific church, according to cemetery documents.

The headstones are arranged in haphazard rows throughout the cemetery and are both engraved and hand-painted, representing the site’s 144 years of history, ancestry and legacy. 

Some of the oldest headstones commemorating the burial sites are of two African American Union soldiers, George Anderson and Alexander Miller — soldiers born and raised in South Louisiana, yet fought for the Union and their freedom. Anderson was a private in Union Company I within the 78th Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry and Miller was a private in Union Company K within the 75th Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry. 

There are also World War I, Korean War and World War II soldiers buried here. 

Along with its circuit and military connections, this cemetery has a strong connection to local community leaders.

Leaders like Cordelia M. Washington, who was a pioneer of African American education, and Pastor Jacob Young, who helped establish Allen Chapel AME Church in Thibodaux in 1895, are buried here along with many others.

And while the cemetery is the final home for many important figures, there are few records about it. Local entities like the Louisiana Cemetery Board, the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development and the Lafourche Heritage Society do not have a lot of historical documentation on this cemetery.

“Black history wasn’t recorded like white history was recorded…The younger generations just aren’t interested in it anymore. On one hand, I applaud them. Move forward. On the other hand, you cannot forget the history. This is how you became you.”