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the first full-length documentary about Beauford.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How I became involved in the affair regarding Beauford’s gravesite

Prior to the summer of 2009, I would not have considered myself a “Friend of Beauford Delaney.” I knew of Beauford’s life and his paintings because of my work: I write personalized itineraries for Anglophone travelers to Paris and travel articles about Paris. Through my research on 20th-century African-American Paris expatriates, I knew that he was well respected, and much loved. At the time that I discovered the situation regarding his gravesite, I was researching an article on African-American gravesites in and around Paris. But I was not a personal friend, or even an acquaintance.

I knew that Beauford was buried near Paris, but could not remember where. I contacted a colleague whom I believed could give me the information that I sought, but he could not remember the name of the cemetery either. He contacted his colleagues and found that Beauford was interred at Thiais. But his colleagues expressed concern that Beauford’s remains would be exhumed this year, if they had not been already.

I called the cemetery to inquire about the status of the grave. Having been assured that Beauford’s remains were still safely in the ground, I went to the cemetery to see the gravesite for myself. Armed with the coordinates of the tomb (Division 86, Line 2, Tomb 45), I found the division easily enough. However, I was unable to accurately determine the line and space for the grave because of the absence of any sign indicating line numbers or the direction that one needed to walk to begin counting the individual tombs. In addition, most of the land in this division appeared “unoccupied”—either the graves were unmarked or the spaces were actually empty. At this time, I did not know that Beauford’s grave was unmarked. 

Beauford's unmarked grave
© Discover Paris!

Finally, two guards were able to help me.  They indicated that one begins counting the lines of a division at the lower left corner, and that one counts the tombs from left to right.  They both walked the length of Line 2 and arrived at the same space for Tomb 45.  The grave was unmarked, and was only distinguishable by a mound of dirt overgrown by weeds.  A small, ceramic flower arrangement sat at the head of the plot, but there was no way to know whether this had been placed there by mistake.

I would later learn that the arrangement had been placed at the grave by Sue Canterbury, the curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Art who organized an exposition of Beauford’s work entitled Delaney: From New York to Paris. She is one of the persons committed to keeping Beauford’s grave intact.

Remembering the stories that I heard personal friends of Beauford tell about him, and having recently read the biography of Beauford by David Leeming, I felt that the least I could do for this exceptional man was to help keep his remains interred as long as possible. Friends gathered the necessary funds, sent them to me, and I submitted them to the cemetery. Beauford’s concession is now paid in full through 2011.

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