The work began in 2006 as an effort to document a community’s heritage.



The work began in 2006 as an effort to document a community’s heritage.

The result six years later is six volumes filled with more than 1,100 obituaries, each one carrying history to the next generation.

And over the weekend, as a broader celebration of the neighborhood of North Port St. Joe takes place, the Knights of Pythias will distribute the latest editions in a passion project that has, literally and pardon the word-play, taken on a life its own.

“Historical African-American Obituaries from Port St. Joe and surrounding areas” was originally a four-volume set published in March 2010 and covering the history of the area from 1927 through 2010.

That encompassed 760 obituaries.

And, it would turn out, the Knights were really just getting started.

In effect, despite the comprehensiveness of the first four volumes, it wasn’t completely comprehensive (which, yes, sounds oxymoronic).

“After the first (edition) came out people realized that there were obituaries we didn’t have,” said Clarence Monette, who has spearheaded this chronicling of a community.

“Family, friends, people in the community. And also the Usher’s Union, they provided a lot of the records.”

So, coming off the press last week, were two more volumes that add another 360 obituaries to the collection; the first addendum covering September 1965 through December 2011 and the second January 2012 through March of this year.

Not just obituaries either, but church programs and other artifacts, and so much detail, from the “homegoing” of many pioneers of the local African-American community, to craft a history book.

The Knights of Pythias and Monette have added other features, including a map, with names/plots in a legend, of Forest Hill Cemetery, the traditionally African-American cemetery.

As part of that work, the Knights are collaborating with the St. Joseph Historical Society, which is undertaking an up-to-date mapping of Holly Hill cemetery.

The covers of the new addendums also spotlight the passing in the past few years of notable members of the community such as Viola ‘OV’ Johnson Smith, who passed away last year at 104, Rev. Edward King, former trustee with Jesse Ball DuPont Foundation, and Edward Patton.

In addition, the covers feature obituaries and/or funeral programs for Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.

“They were so instrumental to black history and the black community,” Monette said of Coretta King and Parks.

“Rev. King, he came and was a part of this community for years and helped with so many projects.”

For Monette, and the Knights, the obituary project is bedrock history, a way to retain and maintain a record of those who came and helped mold a community.

“This keeps a record of the community, it’s historical,” Monette said. “It is history of the people and family members who were living here, working here, people developing a community.

“I love it. This is something that will last forever. After we’re gone, people will be able to look up this history and see about their ancestors.”

At 3 p.m. ET Sunday at New Bethel A.M.E. Church, located at 146 Avenue C, the Knights will distribute the two addendums.

As this is a volunteer effort, and it is not inexpensive to print in quality and quantity, the volumes will be donated to the Corrine Costin Port St. Joe Public Library, Port St. Joe City Hall, the St. Joseph Historical Society, the media room at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, the George Washington School Museum and churches in North Port St. Joe.

Those interested can purchase the volumes on CD by contacting any member of the local lodge of the Knights of Pythias or contacting Monette at 899-1479.