Clarence McGee, a wiry man in knee high boots, shoveled dirt with the precision of a cake decorator. In a graveyard where bodies are stacked upon bodies, he had no room for error.
Graves are only four feet deep and dug by hand at Holt Cemetery in New Orleans because the cemetery is at water level. Sweat dripped from McGee’s brow as he struggled to find footing on the sloshy ground.
His co-worker, Warren Ernest, 44, stood ready to relieve him. In the background, dozens of orange-shirted teens from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America busied themselves cleaning the historic African American burial site.
The city owns the cemetery and Ernest was on the maintenance staff for 18 years. After Hurricane Katrina struck four years ago, the city said it wouldn’t maintain the grounds any longer.
Ernest lost his job. He still digs, for a minimal fee.
On this hot, humid July day, he points across the grounds to a pole where an American flag is hanging.
“Over there,” he said. “That used to be my station.” (more…)