Southern Scribe
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Remembrance and Honor
An interview with Mary Wilder Crockett
by Adam J. Carozza 

 
 

As I was researching the early pioneers of  Pasco County, Florida, I happened to notice a more
recent article about a Pinellas County event. The Suncoast News, February 8, 2003, “Former
Slave: Black veteran, who bore arms for the Confederacy, to be remembered in Tarpon Springs
ceremony.” I discovered through my research of the New Port Richey area in West Pasco
County that African Americans restricted by Jim Crow laws were not permitted burial in white
cemeteries. Having no black cemetery in the New Port Richey area, people of African heritage
were buried in Tarpon Springs (Pinellas County) about eight miles to the south at Rose
Cemetery. During the days of segregation, Rose Cemetery was available for African Americans
from Clearwater to New Port Richey.  I also located the final resting place of Aaron McLaughlin
Richey, namesake of Port Richey and New Port Richey located at the white cemetery (Cycadia)
maintained by the city of Tarpon Springs. Across the street is the privately owned black
cemetery (Rose). Both of the sites occupy Jasmine Avenue off Keystone Road in Tarpon
Springs, nearly touching but yet divided.
 
On Friday February 21, 2003, I went to Tarpon Springs and knocked on the door of Mary Wilder
Crockett, age 66, the great-granddaughter of the former slave mentioned in the article. Mary
answered the door and I quickly said “hi” and told her the purpose of my visit. She immediately
said, “Don’t just stand there come on in.” I had forgotten what a friendly and close-knit
community this was and it never made a difference if the person at the door was “white or
black.” I was immediately welcome in her home.
 
Mary and I spent the next two hours sitting at the kitchen table discussing her great-
grandfather, J. Richard Quarls (sometimes spelled Quarles) and what it was like growing up
during the days of segregation in Tarpon Springs for a person of African Heritage. J. Richard
Quarls (former slave on a South Carolina plantation) was her great-grandfather’s slave name
who was later known as Christopher Columbus, the name that he had chosen. According to
Mary, her great-grandfather thought that using his slave name, which also connected him
with his previous service in the Confederate army, would probably not meet with the approval
of his friends in Tarpon Springs. Not being able to read or write Christopher Columbus was one
of the few names he knew, Mary said. I stated how happy I was to be able to talk with her on
this day before the ceremony, because after tomorrow she may be too occupied with
newspaper reporters for me to casually approach her as I did today. “I’ll still be Mary,” She
said. One could not meet a more pleasant person.   
 
Mary told me that her grandmother, Orlando Columbus Clark, had died in 1951 when Mary was
a teenager. However, her grandmother passed on the oral history that Mary Wilder Crockett
was preparing to pass on to me. As she began to orient me to her world, Mary was especially
proud to tell me that she is living on the same property that was previously owned by her
great-grandfather, Christopher Columbus. The first house was built about 1909, one block
from the railroad tracks on Safford Avenue. As Mary enchanted me with her stories she
pointed in the direction of the railroad tracks. Mary told me of the Orange Blossom Special that
had passed by her home many years ago when she was a child. “Sometimes white people
would throw candy out the windows, as the train went by,” she said.
 
Next, Mary proudly told me about her four children, who were among the first to integrate
Tarpon Springs Elementary School in the 1960s. However, Mary did not have the convenience
of going to the closest school when she was a child. She attended the school for black
children known as Union Academy Elementary School established in 1919. Growing up in the
1940s and 1950s segregation did exist but Mary told me of the time that she and her
grandmother got to know the bus driver in town and he would allow them to ride in the front
of the bus. She said, “while growing up in Tarpon Springs I never knew prejudice or racism.”
Mary added that “blacks and whites regularly shopped and mixed with each other.”
 
We then moved on to her great-grandfather Christopher Columbus. Tomorrow, February 22,
2003, the tombstone dedication will be held at Rose Cemetery formerly known as Rose Hill
Cemetery built in the 1800s; exact year is unknown. Christopher Columbus was born on
December 12, 1833 in Edgefield County, South Carolina. He is being honored for his service by
the Sons of Confederate Veterans, because he joined the Confederate Army in South Carolina
with his master’s son and had fought several battles against the Union Army.  Mary Crockett
said that she was told that her great-grandfather was proud to be the only black person from
Tarpon Springs to have gone to the National Convention of the United Confederate Veterans
in Washington D.C., with other former Confederate soldiers and saw President Woodrow Wilson.
In 1916, Richard Quarls filed and later received a Florida Confederate Soldier pension (file no.
A04986) and his widow, Mary Holland Quarls continued drawing his pension until her death on
October 16, 1951. Confederate pensions were awarded to residents of Florida regardless of
the state in which their military service was rendered.
 
Upon arriving the next day at Rose Cemetery for the ceremony the first thing I noticed was
the rare sight of a Confederate Honor Guard and a collection of Confederate battle flags.
About 150 people attended the ceremony including four generations of descendants of
Christopher Columbus. Engraved on his marker: “Pvt. J. Richard Quarls, Co. K, 7 SC Inf. CSA.”
 
“This is something that should be done more often, it is a bonding element that needs to be
taught over and over to ourselves and our children,” said Marion Lambert, chief of staff of the
Florida division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Remembering and honoring J. Richard
Quarls (Christopher Columbus), 78 years after his death, is just one step in the healing
process.

Adam J. Carozza is a retired U.S. Postal Service employee and seeking a second career as a
high school social studies/history teacher. Currently a graduate student at the University of
South Florida, concentration in Florida and regional studies. He is a member of the Florida
Historical Society and West Pasco Historical Society.
 
This interview is part of a larger ongoing work.
 
Adam J. Carozza may be contacted by e-mail at acarozza@tampabay.rr.com

 

© 2003, Adam J. Carozza, All Rights Reserved