The Texas Historical Commission has approved a historical marker for the great blues/gospel artist, Blind Willie Johnson
Online PR News – 04-March-2010 – – Austin, Texas
In 2007, Anna Obek and Shane Ford began a trip to find the graves of Texas blues musicians. They traveled around the state and the last site they visited was the grave of “Blind” Willie Johnson in Beaumont, Texas. As with the other graves, they had done some research as to where Mr. Johnson was buried. There was not much information to go on.
According to Mr. Johnson’s death certificate, Johnson is buried in “Blanchette Cemetery” in Beaumont, Texas. There is a lot of confusion as to where “Blanchette Cemetery” is actually located. Finding “Blanchette Cemetery” seemed to be the main question. Anecdotal evidence suggested that “Blanchette Cemetery” was somewhere on Hegele Street in Beaumont. They did have some research experience so they got a map from the Jefferson County Clerk’s office detailing the "Blanchette Cemetery". With map in hand, they set out to the edge of the railroad tracks on Hegele Street. They discovered an area in shambles. Instead of locating a grave, there was only a patch of land with broken, rotted headstones, caskets above ground and an unkempt lawn. None of the broken headstones yielded Mr. Johnson’s name.
After realizing that Mr. Johnson had no headstone, Ms. Obek and Mr. Ford began a campaign to preserve his legacy. They departed Beaumont very disappointed. If Johnson was indeed buried in "Blanchette Cemetery" there was no trace of him now. They decided then and there that it would only be proper for this man who affected them so much to have a memorial. They knew first that they had more research to conduct to make sure the memorial would be placed in an accurate location. They walked Commerce Street in Marlin where Mr. Johnson played and areas of downtown Beaumont in order to find out more about Mr. Johnson’s life.
For the next two years, they began collecting documents from the Jefferson County Clerk, obtaining maps and deed documents, as to gather more information on "Blanchette Cemetery". As is turned out, there were several "Blanchette Cemeteries." Time continued on, with little to no results, as to his exact burial site. It seemed impossible, due to the fact that the graves were shallow and with the storms that had come and gone, caskets were known to travel.
In 2009, their newly gathered evidence proved which one of the "Blanchette Cemeteries" Blind Willie was buried in. Several deed records were located that traced back to multiple owners and maps of the cemetery in question, some of which included the people who coordinated “Blind” Willie Johnson's burial. Still, there was not an exact plot. At the time, the Jefferson County Historical Commission was working to submit an application for a Texas Historical Marker for Mr. Johnson.
"They were going to submit a marker application for a wrong location," Ms. Obek said. "That's what really forced our hand in all of this."
Ms. Obek and Mr. Ford contacted the JCHC and suggested, since there was no exact plot found, to have a marker where “Blind” Willie Johnson lived, the last location listed on his death certificate, the "House of Prayer" at 1440 Forrest in Beaumont, Texas. The Jefferson County Historical Commission reviewed their evidence and agreed and since have submitted this application to the main commission office in Austin. In February of 2010, the Texas Historical Commission approved the “House of Prayer” location. The marker will be erected in late 2010.
Along the way, Ms. Obek and Mr. Ford also uncovered the mystery as to who Angeline Robinson was, Mr. Johnson’s alleged wife. The information they found was discovered in old Beaumont City Directories and U.S. Census data. It is known that Angeline Robinson was the sister of blues guitarist, L.C. Robinson. The U.S. Census data lists an L.C. Robinson in 1920 as age five. L.C. Robinson was born in 1915, thus, making him five years old in 1920. One of the sister’s listed is Anna Bell Robinson, age twenty. According to Beaumont City Directories, in 1941, a W.M. Johnson and Anna Robinson resided at 555 Forsythe Street (St. Charles Hotel). After Willie’s death in 1945, the Beaumont City Directory of 1947 lists an Anna Johnson (wid of Willie) living at 1730 Cottonwood in Beaumont, Texas. Due to this evidence, they believe that Angeline was born Anna Bell.
“We discovered Anna Bell’s death certificate in February of 2010,” Ms. Obek said. "It's interesting stuff, finding all these new things and putting the pieces together."
Mr. Johnson’s final resting place may never be specifically located. Due to this, Ms. Obek and Mr. Ford have established a memorial fund to get a monument set up in the general premises of his grave, in what was once “Blanchette Cemetery”. They have obtained and secured written permission from the President and Owner of Community Cemeteries (which owns the property in question) and started a website in order to help raise the needed funds.
This location of the cemetery is situated between Hegele and Ollie Streets cornered by Inca Street and Southern Pacific Road in Beaumont, Texas. This was always an all black cemetery and is listed through county records as “Blanchette Cemetery.” Jefferson County deed records confirm that this area was still known as “Blanchette Cemetery” up to at least 1964. If you would like to get more information or contribute to this fund, please visit the Blind Willie Johnson Memorial Fund at www.blindwilliejohnsonfund.com.
“This has always been more than just a project for us. It is about a man’s life and legacy and his great contribution to the world. We hope that others will share our passion for this cause.”
Contact: Shane Ford or Anna Obek at firstname.lastname@example.org