A teachable moment
By Roberto Fernández, III
In early February, it was reported that Boyd Anderson High School’s History Across Broward Initiative students discovered the grave marker of Dr. James Sistrunk and his family while documenting Fort Lauderdale’s Woodlawn Cemetery. On Feb. 4th students visited the Old Dillard Museum and met with museum staff, including Mr. James Bradley. Bradley spoke with students about growing up in Broward County, attending Dillard and then dropped a bombshell: “Dr. Sistrunk is not buried at Woodlawn. I was told that he has a marker at Sunset Memorial Cemetery.” The students were shocked. Club member Sharilee Francis recalled, “I was completely baffled because I was so sure he had to have been buried [at Woodlawn]” she stated that she became “more curious as to where Dr. Sistrunk was actually buried.”
As the club advisor, I too was surprised with the news and went that week to Sunset Memorial Garden and found the marker for Dr. Sistrunk and his wife, Daisy. This discovery led students to ask several questions including is it possible that he was moved from Woodlawn Cemetery to Sunset Cemetery? Students decided to invite Mickey Hinton, who has worked to preserve and protect Woodlawn Cemetery. Hinton agreed and came in to speak with students on Feb. 11th. During the interview Mickey informed the students “many families bought plots in Woodlawn.” He also spoke about the monument built by the City of Fort Lauderdale in 2002 and how the names inscribed on it were collected. Members of the community were asked in churches and through the radio to contribute the names of loved ones buried at Woodlawn. The monument serves as a centograph for all those who are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery without a formal marker. This is important because as Mr. Hinton stated, “Many people left their own markers.” Some people planted trees, sticks, or stones in lieu of formal headstones or lawn style markers. The interview helped students gain a better understanding of the history of the cemetery and previous preservation efforts.
Students wondered how they could confirm where Dr. Sistrunk was buried. Club President Kristen Nguyen recalls, “All of us wanted to know the truth and get to the bottom of the mystery.”
Students searched Broward County records and found a will and affidavit belonging to Daisy Sistrunk, which proved their marriage. After some discussion it was decided that a death certificate would be requested from the state as it provides burial information. A few days ago the death certificate arrived and shows that Dr. Sistrunk was buried at Sunset Memorial Cemetery. Reflecting on this experience, Sharilee stated, “Historians are fact trapped with each new fact painting a more accurate picture of an event.”
This teachable moment allowed students to appreciate the responsibility of historical research and writing while immersing themselves into the historian’s craft.”
HISTORY ACROSS BROWARD NEEDS YOUR HELP
If you have information about anyone buried at Woodlawn Cemetery and would like to help please contact the students at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the club advisor Mr. Roberto Fernandez at (754) 322-0200.