A Walk Amongst

the Tombstones

Part I

By Emily Hilliard


Hello, my name is Emily Hilliard, and this is the story of my efforts to help the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund (MZMF) erect a memorial for blues artist Nathan Beauregard. On Sunday, September 3, 2022, I made the first of many trips to make contact with the members of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Ashland, Mississippi. This would turn out to be more of a challenge than I realized. One of the main issues being that Nathan Beauregard (well, his actual last name was Bogard) was not buried in a marked grave.

Luckily for me, MZMF Executive Director Dr. DeWayne Moore as well as New York filmmaker Dr. Augusta Palmer, have already been working on this project when I came aboard. Thus, I came into the effort armed with a lot of information. Thanks to the research of my colleagues at the MZMF, Beauregard’s burial site had been pinpointed in the cemetery of the Shiloh MB Church. It was at this location that I would discover more headstones that bore the same last name as Nathan Bogard. Most notably, I came upon the headstone of the Rose Beaugard, a distant relative of the late musician. I measured her headstone on my first trip to the church, and we plan to erect a similar sized memorial to the late musician.

I also planned to organize a meeting with the church members. Unfortunately, after searching the cemetery all morning, I was not presentable for church attendance. I would not speak to anyone on my first trip, but I was determined to make contact.

After searching the graveyard and measuring the headstone of Rose Beaugard, I needed to make contact with the church leaders. Without their support, the MZMF might never erect the headstone. So a couple of weeks later, I drove back to Ashland on a Sunday, hoping to speak with someone. My second trip, however, turned out to be a bust. I drove down to the church only to find out no service was scheduled. Determined not to get discouraged, I decided to make some phone calls, and I reached out to some family friends who lived in the area. After hitting a few dead ends, I finally managed to get in contact with a couple members of the congregation who told me that they only met on certain Sundays each month. 

The church members were more than a little hesitant to speak with me, and it was only after explaining that the MZMF simply wanted to preserve the history of the church as well as help maintain the cemetery, that the congregation seemed to warm up to the idea.

Chain of Command

That still did not mean, however, that I had permission to erect a marker. The church leadership had a chain of command, and if I was going to make any progress, I’d have to climb it. I would have to attend church the following Sunday and present my case in front of the entire congregation as well as the church deacons, who had the final say about whether or not we had permission to erect the memorial. I had so many obstacles in my path, but I was headed in the right direction, and I contacted Dr. Moore to give him the good news. He agreed to help prepare to face the church patriarchs. I was nervous, yet excited and determined to make our case.