Some of the city’s earliest residents are buried in Greenwood Cemetery, on the outskirts of downtown Birmingham.

Some of the city’s earliest residents are buried in Greenwood Cemetery, on the outskirts of downtown Birmingham.

File photoby Patricia O’Blenes


Historians look to honor former slaves turned founders of Birmingham

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 8, 2020

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BIRMINGHAM — George and Eliza Taylor escaped slavery in Kentucky, following the perilous Underground Railroad route to gain access to Michigan in the 1850s.

They settled as farmers in the area before they eventually bought a home on Bates Street in Birmingham in 1893 — they were the first African American property owners in Birmingham. They were active in the United Presbyterian Church and were highly regarded in the community.     

When the Taylors died six months apart in 1901 and 1902, their loss was mourned by their adopted daughter and the rest of the community, and they were buried in Greenwood Cemetery. But their graves were not marked, and their story was eventually lost to the passage of time.

That is, until local historian George Getschman, Greenwood Cemetery’s tour coordinator and a board member of the Friends of the Birmingham Museum, discovered the Taylors’ obituary last January, more than a century later.

“I was shocked,” he said in a press release. “It was astonishing that these two people, who had been a part of such an important story of our nation’s history, turned out to be part of Birmingham’s story, as well. They joined our small farming community and lived their lives here, but then were totally forgotten for three or four generations.”

Getschman kept digging into the Taylor family’s history, along with Birmingham Museum staff member Donna Casaceli. They decided they should do something about the couple’s missing grave markers, and they set out to raise funds for the effort with like-minded historians from the Piety Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Friends of the Birmingham Museum.

The museum will coordinate a fundraising campaign to collect donations from the public in any dollar amount for the cause, and the DAR and the Friends of the Museum have already committed to donating $2,000 toward the total $4,700 total project cost.

Getschman said tha,t when the additional $2,700 has been raised, a large marker will be installed in a similar style to the older graves in the cemetery, with biographical information about the Taylors and an engraving: “Born in slavery; died free in Birmingham.”

Lisa Milton, the president of the Piety Hill Chapter of the DAR, said the effort to honor the Taylors’ history in the city is one that perfectly complements the group’s mission of historic preservation, education and patriotism.

“Our chapter is actively involved in preserving the history of Greenwood Cemetery. When we became aware of George and Eliza Taylor’s story, our members were committed to getting involved in procuring a marker for their resting place,” Milton said in a prepared statement. “The Taylors are an important part of the Birmingham community’s history. We are very proud to support the establishment of a permanent and meaningful grave marker for them. We look forward to a future community celebration of their lives.”

Getschman agreed.

“The Taylors’ story and their final resting place should be acknowledged so they can take their place in Birmingham history,” he said.

The Friends of the Birmingham Museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Any excess funds raised will be placed in a special Friends of the Birmingham Museum account for the preservation of Greenwood Cemetery.

Contributions to the Taylor Monument Fund can be made online in any amount through a secure payment service with the Birmingham Museum/City of Birmingham at https://bit.ly/bhammuseumsupport.

Checks can be made payable to “Friends of the Birmingham Museum-Taylor Monument Project” and mailed to the Birmingham Museum, 556 W. Maple Road, Birmingham, MI 48009.

For more information on the Friends of the Birmingham Museum, visit bhamgov.org/history/friends or call the Birmingham Museum to learn more about the Taylor monument project at (248) 530-1682.

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